Over six months after the historic vote, the Prime Minister May finally explained what Brexit will actually mean for the country that decided to break away from the European Union.
The British Prime Minister Theresa May presented her vision of separating Britain from the European Union in the long-anticipated speech yesterday that confirmed the 'hard Brexit' scenario. After the majority of the British citizens voted in favor of their country leaving the 28-nation bloc, it was unclear what exactly the process would be since it was the first instance of this kind and scope in the history of the European Union.
During her speech yesterday, May said there was no change to her "Brexit means Brexit" stance and the United Kingdom will leave the EU, as promised. This means that the country will stop being part of the single market that allows free trade among all 28 member states of the union, she noted. The U.K. leaving the single market was one of the biggest fears of businesses and politicians as the proceeds from trading with other EU members accounted for more than half of the U.K.'s total in 2015, explained CNN experts. That is why, the consequences of this bold decision could be quite devastating for the U.K. unless May manages to struck an attractive trade deal with the member states.
Expecting a wave of criticism on this statement, the Prime Minister said that the U.K. will make sure to negotiate a new "bold and ambitious free trade agreement" while rejecting the EU obligation to allow the free movement of people at the same time. To the EU nations this sounded a lot like cherry-picking.
“This agreement should allow for the freest possible trade in goods and services between Britain and the E.U.’s member states. It should give British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate within European markets — and let European businesses do the same in Britain. But I want to be clear. What I am proposing cannot mean membership of the single market,” said the Prime Minister, as appears in NYT.
Another point was Britain's participations in the Customs Union. The Prime Minister emphasized that the country will seek to make new deal on the customs rules, since the current Customs Union's rules encourage trading within the EU with zero tariffs while make it harder to make individual trade agreements with countries outside of the bloc. May said she wanted Britain to be "truly global" as well as capable of striking its own trade deals around the globe while still continue the preferential trading with the EU, reported The New York Times.
"Now, I want Britain to be able to negotiate its own trade agreements. But I also want tariff-free trade with Europe and cross-border trade there to be as frictionless as possible," she continued.
Immigration has been commonly cited as the main reason behind the overwhelming "leave" vote during the June 23 referendum. May also shared her stance on the control of immigration and the fundamental EU principle of the free movement. The Prime Minister did not provide much clarity on the rights of the EU citizens staying in the U.K. as well as the rights of British citizens living in other EU states.
"Because while controlled immigration can bring great benefits: filling skills shortages, delivering public services, making British businesses the world-beaters they often are. But when the numbers get too high, public support for the system falters."
However, she emphasized that the government will "get control of the number of people coming to Britain from the EU" as it was the main message behind the Brexit vote.
"But the message from the public before and during the referendum campaign was clear: Brexit must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe. And that is what we will deliver."
Next to that, May said for the first time that the there will be a separate voting on the Brexit deal in the British Parliament, which suggests that the members of the Parliament could, hypothetically, vote against the deal, says CNN. However, May rejected this possibility, when asked about it. The Prime Minister also did not elaborate on her previous decision to trigger Article 50 by the end of March.
Shortly after the speech, the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon said that May's decision to quit the single market membership makes Scotland's plans to hold a referendum on separating from Britain even more likely, reported The Telegraph. Sturgeon said that despite May's promises of strengthening "the precious Union" that included Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, she did not share her stance on the 'hard Brexit', which she considers to be disastrous for the economy. Both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU back in June.
"It seems the Westminster Tory Government now think they can do anything to Scotland and get away with it. They must start to understand how wrong they are. The UK Government cannot be allowed to take us out of the EU and the single market, regardless of the impact on our economy, jobs, living standards and our reputation as an open, tolerant country, without Scotland having the ability to choose between that and a different future," Nicola Sturgeon told The Telegraph.
The reaction among the European leaders was quite mixed while the German Chancellor Angela Merkel did not give an official comment yesterday. Merkel will meet meet with German officials later today to discuss May's speech, said The Independent. However, Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said yesterday that at least the EU could finally receive "a bit more clarity".
The full transcript of Theresa May's speech can be found here.