Brexit speech: Theresa May rejects ‘partial’ EU membership

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The UK will not retain “partial” membership of the EU once it leaves, Theresa May will say in her much-anticipated Brexit speech.

The PM will tell other European countries the UK wants to trade with them “as freely as possible” but will not be “half-in, half-out” of the EU.

Her speech is expected to include further hints Britain could leave the EU single market.

Downing Street said she would set out 12 negotiating objectives.

The government has so far revealed few details about what it wants to secure from the Brexit talks, which it is promising to trigger by the end of March. Labour has urged Mrs May to push for a “deal that works for trade”.

The prime minister’s speech will be closely watched for signals on its involvement in the single market (which allows the free movement of goods, services and workers between members) and the customs union (which means members do not impose tariffs on each other’s goods and impose the same tariffs on goods from outside).

EU leaders have said the UK cannot “cherry pick” access to the single market while restricting the free movement of people, while Mrs May has suggested curbing migration will be her top priority.

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Media captionLord Peter Mandelson tells Today Theresa May is pretending difficult choices don’t exist

Addressing an audience including foreign ambassadors in central London, Mrs May will say the UK will be “the best friend and neighbour to our European partners, but a country that reaches beyond the borders of Europe too”.

She will tell the remaining 27 EU member states: “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.”


By Laura Kuenssberg – BBC political editor

Essentially, ministers have taken more than six months to work out what they really want to do. And part of the problem has been that they don’t all agree.

Now, as one of those on the Eurosceptic side of the argument describes it, the prime minister is about to make her speech and “people like me will not be upset with it”.

But it is not the case that Mrs May has suddenly clicked her fingers and made up her mind about everything.

Indeed, while she has been accused of dithering and delaying, lacking vision and the ability to make swift decisions, those who defend the prime minister suggest that something else has been going on – it’s not just that she has been taking a long time doing her homework.

Arguably, she has followed a decades-old political technique of “constructive ambiguity”.

Read Laura’s blog in full

Mrs May, who backed Remain in the referendum, will call for a “new and equal partnership” with 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.”

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People who voted Brexit “did so with their eyes open”, the prime minister will say, calling the vote a “great moment of national change”.

She will say the country is “coming together” after June’s referendum, adding: “Now we need to put an end to the division and the language associated with it – Leaver and Remainer and all the accompanying insults – and unite to make a success of Brexit and build a truly global Britain.”

Since becoming prime minister last July, Mrs May has faced repeated calls to provide more detail on her Brexit strategy, but has refused to offer a “running commentary”, saying to do so would weaken the UK’s negotiating hand.

Europe awaits May’s speech – from BBC Monitoring

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Several German and French newspapers trail details of Theresa May’s speech.

“Theresa May and Brexit: The moment of truth”, reads a headline on the website of France’s Le Monde.

A commentary in Paris’s Le Figaro says the prime minister is putting “politics before economics”

“May risks showdown with the EU,” warns Germany’s Die Welt.

The promised Brexit plan still appears “surprisingly vague” and is likely to “disappoint many listeners,” predicts Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

In Spain, El Pais believes that Mrs May is going “on the offensive in pursuit of a clean and hard Brexit”, while Italy’s La Repubblica has “May chooses hard Brexit”

Downing Street said her 12 negotiating priorities would be driven by the principles of certainty and clarity and the aims of making Britain stronger, fairer and “truly global”.

Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, said the UK should stay in the customs union, telling BBC Newsnight: “We have to decide how we front up to these negotiations. We need to aim for the best deal for the UK.

“That’s the deal that works for trade. It’s a deal that accepts there has to be change on freedom-of-movement rules. That’s the starting position.

“Preserving our ability to trade successfully in Europe has to be the priority for business. Staying in the customs union is the best way to achieve that.”

Media captionMany have heard of hard brexit and soft brexit, but what about grey and clean versions?

Ahead of the speech, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the business community in her country to back her stance on Brexit, saying: “I’m asking you as representatives of the business world to act together with us, because should it become apparent that you can get full access to the single market even if you can choose certain things then we risk that every country cherry picks. That’s why politics and business need to act together.”

Conservative MP Dominic Raab, who campaigned for a Leave vote, said it was “highly likely” the UK would leave the formal structures of the single market and the customs union, and it was vital for Mrs May to argue a “positive case” for Brexit.

But Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “You can call this Brexit clean, red, white and blue, or whatever you want. But this doesn’t disguise the fact that it will be a destructive, hard Brexit and the consequences will be felt by millions of people through higher prices, greater instability and rising fuel costs.”

Rupert Harrison, former chief of staff to ex-Chancellor George Osborne and previous chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the UK Treasury, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it was “inevitable” the prime minister would aim to leave the single market.

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