Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday outlined the contours of what she called a “Global Britain” after Brexit in a major speech that confirmed her government will take the country out of the European single market, delighting and dismaying many in equal measure.
Leaving the single market has major implications for Britain’s economy and that of the European Union. It will also affect more than 800 Indian companies that use Britain as a base to operate across Europe, and many are already working on alternatives.
May mentioned India twice in the speech as one of the key countries with which Britain will seek free trade agreements and forge closer engagement. She said initial talks on free trade with India had already started.
While the decision to leave the single market dismayed many, including MPs from May’s Conservative Party and trade and industry, her announcement that the final Brexit deal at the end of the two-year exit process will be placed before Parliament was welcomed, strengthening the pound.
Since the membership of the single market comes with the obligation of freedom of movement of EU citizens, May’s announcement implies similar restrictions on the entry of EU citizens into Britain as those applicable to India and other non-EU countries. It reiterated May’s hardline approach on the issue of immigration as home secretary and prime minister.
May’s former cabinet colleague, MP Nicky Morgan, said she was disappointed by the single market exit plan, while the bid to forge a free trade deal with the EU, according to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, was akin to having the cake and eating it too.
“Mrs May has said she will leave the single market and, at the same time, has said she wants to have access to it. I am not quite sure how that is going to go down in Europe...She seems to be wanting to have her cake and eat it," Corbyn said.
As business leaders said they were no wiser on the post-Brexit scenario, senior Labour MP Chuka Umuna said: “The PM fails to understand if we leave the EU single market we'd have no say over the rules applying to almost half our exports.”
Noting the tough stand taken by some EU member states on Brexit, May warned: “Britain wants to remain a good friend and neighbour to Europe. Yet I know there are some voices calling for a punitive deal that punishes Britain and discourages other countries from taking the same path.
“That would be an act of calamitous self-harm for the countries of Europe. And it would not be the act of a friend. Britain would not - indeed we could not - accept such an approach. And while I am confident that this scenario need never arise - while I am sure a positive agreement can be reached - I am equally clear that no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.”
Stating explicitly that her government will not try to hold on to parts of the EU, she told envoys of various countries at Lancaster House: “We seek a new and equal partnership – between an independent, self-governing, Global Britain and our friends and allies in the EU. Not 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. The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union. My job is to get the right deal for Britain as we do,” she said, confirming Brexit will also end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
Insisting that Brexit did not mean cutting off Britain from European neighbours, particularly on the issue of terrorism, she said: “We will continue to be reliable partners, willing allies and close friends. We want to buy your goods, sell you ours, trade with you as freely as possible, and work with one another to make sure we are all safer, more secure and more prosperous through continued friendship.”