Tuesday 17 January 2017

Theresa May Vows To Put Final Brexit Deal Before Parliament

Theresa May

Theresa May has committed to putting the final Brexit deal to a vote in parliament in a speech on the UK’s future relationship with the European Union, and insisted that if she failed to get what she wanted no deal would be better than a bad deal.

The prime minister’s pledge to hold votes in both the Commons and the Lords came alongside a stark warning to European countries that any attempt to inflict a punitive deal on the UK would be an act of “calamitous self-harm”.

“No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she said, threatening to slash taxes to attract companies and investors if the UK fails to negotiate a positive deal with EU. However, May said she was “confident that this scenario need never arise”.

In the most important speech of her premiership so far, the Conservative leader made clear that she would be pursuing what critics have labelled a hard Brexit, in which there would be no halfway house, and where regaining immigration control and sovereignty would trump economic access for ministers.

She said her government’s 12 priorities for crunch negotiations with the EU 27 meant Britain would:

  • Not be seeking membership of the single market after it leaves the EU.

  • Take back control of its borders, which she said had been impossible with free movement from within Europe.

  • No longer be under the jurisdiction of the European court of justice, arguing: “We will not have truly left the European Union if we are not in control of our own laws.”

  • Not stay in the customs union in its current form, but would try to strike a separate deal that would make trading across borders as “frictionless as possible”.

Her promise of a vote for MPs and peers follows demands from Labour and the Lib Dems, as well as parliament’s committee on Brexit, but Downing street sources made clear that parliament would not be able to stop Britain leaving the EU. That suggests that failure to pass a vote will result in Britain falling back on to the higher tariffs of World Trade Organisation rules.

May also insisted that she was determined to reach an early deal on the question of the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and British citizens living abroad – an issue she had raised with European leaders. “Many of them favour such an agreement – one or two others do not,” said May.

The prime minister attempted at times to strike a conciliatory tone with the EU by promising to be a “best friend” to the bloc after Brexit. But she used much of the speech to deliver a tough message, arguing that while Britain had been seen as an “awkward” member of the union, Europe had been too inflexible in respecting the needs of a diverse set of nations with very different interests.

“There was not enough flexibility on many important matters for a majority of British voters,” she said.

Echoing a threat from Philip Hammond, the chancellor, she said: “I must be clear. Britain wants to remain a good friend and neighbour to Europe but I know there are some voices calling for a punitive deal. That would be a case of calamitous self-harm for the countries of Europe and it would not be the act of a friend. Britain could not, indeed we would not, accept such an approach.”

The prime minister revealed that she wanted to negotiate Britain’s exit and new trading relationship simultaneously within the two-year period after article 50 is triggered in March, and would only accept a phased process of implementation beyond that.

Any type of unlimited transitional deal could plunge Britain into “permanent political purgatory”, she added, as she called on Britain to put the divides of the hard-fought referendum campaign behind it and to unite around national interest.

Making clear that the UK was not going to seek any form of EU membership via the back door, she said: “We do not seek to adopt a model already enjoyed by other countries. We do not seek to hold on to bits of membership as we leave. The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union. My job is to get the right deal for Britain as we do.”

Downing street sources said the prime minister had discussed the speech with both the leaders of the Scottish and Welsh administrations on Tuesday morning, and planned to reach out to both Angela Merkel and François Hollande.

Tim Farron, the leader of the Lib Dems, said the speech represented confirmation of hard Brexit that would do “massive damage” to the economy.

“Theresa May also made clear that she will deny the people a vote on the final deal. So instead of a democratic decision by the people in the country, she wants a stitch-up by politicians in Westminster. The people voted for departure, they should be given a vote on the destination. This is a theft of democracy,” he said.

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, added: “She makes all these optimistic statements but every economic indicator in Britain is going in the wrong direction.”



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