Sinead Moore 17 Jan 2017 05:56pm

May confirms UK will leave single market

With just two months to go until Theresa May triggers Article 50 and Brexit negotiations begin, the prime minister has set out the UK government’s 12-point plan for leaving the EU. May addressed a number of burning questions, revealing for the first time some details of the UK government’s negotiating position. Here’s what we learned…

The UK will leave the single market

May said the UK will seek a new and equal partnership with the EU, clarifying that this does not mean “partial membership of the European Union, associate membership of the European Union, or anything that leaves us half-in, half-out".

“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.”

She said the UK will therefore not seek membership of the single market but will instead seek the greatest possible access to it through a new free trade agreement with the EU that allows for “the freest possible trade in goods and services between Britain and the EU’s member states”. This would give British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate within European markets, and let European businesses do the same in Britain.

She added this cannot mean membership to the single market, as many businesses hoped for, as “being out of the EU but a member of the single market would mean complying with the EU’s rules and regulations without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are".

She added, “The days of Britain making vast contributions to the European Union every year will end".

May said the new agreement could take in elements of current single market arrangements in certain areas such as the freedom to provide financial services across national borders.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he was "deeply concerned" by the prime minister's "reckless approach".

"We welcome that the prime minister has listened to the case we’ve been making about the need for full tariff free access to the single market but are deeply concerned about her reckless approach to achieving it," he said in a statement.

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron added that May "made the choice to do massive damage to the British economy by taking us out of the single market".

The UK will seek new custom deals

Stressing her desire to strike new trade agreements with countries outside of Europe, May said she does not want Britain to be part of the common commercial policy or be bound by the common external tariff, saying that “these are the elements of the customs union that prevent us from striking our own comprehensive trade agreements with other countries”.

She added, “But I do want us to have a customs agreement with the EU.”

The prime minister admitted she does not know “whether that means we must reach a completely new customs agreement, become an associate member of the customs union in some way, or remain a signatory to some elements of it.”

“I want to remove as many barriers to trade as possible. And I want Britain to be free to establish our own tariff schedules at the World Trade Organisation, meaning we can reach new trade agreements not just with the European Union but with old friends and new allies from outside Europe too,” May added.

The UK will control its own laws

Pledging to provide clarity and certainty (where possible), May outlined that the “acquis” – the body of existing EU law – will be converted into British law as the UK repeals the European Communities Act.

May added, “We will take back control of our laws and bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain. Leaving the European Union will mean that our laws will be made in Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. And those laws will be interpreted by judges not in Luxembourg but in courts across this country.”

She also outlined the government’s commitment to ensure that workers rights are fully protected and maintained.

“Indeed, under my leadership, not only will the government protect the rights of workers set out in European legislation, we will build on them. Because under this government, we will make sure legal protection for workers keeps pace with the changing labour market – and that the voices of workers are heard by the boards of publicly-listed companies for the first time.”

Immigration controls

Saying she wants the UK to be “a magnet for international talent”, May said the UK intends to continue to attract “the brightest and the best to work or study in Britain”, however the number of people coming into Britain from the EU will be controlled “so that our immigration system serves the national interest”.

May also added that the UK wants to “guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are already living in Britain, and the rights of British nationals in other member states, as early as we can".

However, she said an agreement has not yet been reached with other EU leaders.

The prime minister also confirmed that the common travel area with Ireland, which was formed before either country became members of the EU, will be maintained.

“We will work to deliver a practical solution that allows the maintenance of the common travel area with the Republic, while protecting the integrity of the United Kingdom’s immigration system.

“Nobody wants to return to the borders of the past, so we will make it a priority to deliver a practical solution as soon as we can."

Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations

The government has set up a Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations, so ministers from each of the UK’s devolved administrations can contribute to the process of planning for the UK’s departure from the EU.

May said the government has already received a paper from the Scottish government and is expecting one from the Welsh government. She added, “We won’t agree on everything, but I look forward to working with the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to deliver a Brexit that works for the whole of the United Kingdom.”

May also announced “no decisions currently taken by the devolved administrations will be removed from them.”

Parliament will vote on the deal agreed between the UK and EU

Following criticism from MPs, May confirmed that the government will put the final deal that is agreed between the UK and the EU to a vote in both Houses of Parliament, before it comes into force.

While this will likely be welcomed by MPs, Corbyn argued that May should have given her speech in Parliament, where MPs could ask her questions on behalf of their constituents.

"She talks about Brexit restoring parliamentary sovereignty but, once again, she is determined to avoid real scrutiny of her plans," he added.

Transition period

Refusing to call it a transition period, May responded to concerns of a “disruptive cliff-edge”, announcing that the government “will do everything we can to phase in the new arrangements we require as Britain and the EU move towards our new partnership”.

“I want us to have reached an agreement about our future partnership by the time the two-year Article 50 process has concluded,” she said.

“From that point onwards, we believe a phased process of implementation, in which both Britain and the EU institutions and member states prepare for the new arrangements that will exist between us will be in our mutual self-interest.”

She added that the time needed to phase-in the new arrangements may differ and the interim arrangements will be up for negotiation.

She said this will give businesses enough time to plan and prepare for those new arrangements.

Concluding her speech, May said the government’s 12-point plan, which also includes maintaining the UK’s leading role in science and innovation as well as cooperation on crime, terrorism and foreign affairs is “a comprehensive and carefully considered plan that focuses on the ends, not just the means - with its eyes fixed firmly on the future, and on the kind of country we will be once we leave".

Stressing the need to “maintain our discipline” May added that “those who urge us to reveal more – such as the blow-by-blow details of our negotiating strategy, the areas in which we might compromise, the places where we think there are potential trade-offs – will not be acting in the national interest".