British Prime Minister Theresa May outlined her ambitious plans for post-Brexit Britain in a landmark speech, outlining a collaborative future with the EU but confirming that Britain will firmly shut the door on the core EU policies of single market access and free movement of people.
May’s address to EU diplomats in the Long Gallery at Lancaster House made clear to the 27 members of the EU that Britain is taking the hard Brexit route, choosing to reject conditional access to the single market in return for negotiating a difficult, bespoke trade deal with the continental union. The price of single market access had been made clear by the EU, Britain would have had to accept the EU’s four freedoms of trade, people, services and goods.
May has made it clear that Britain wants to regain control of its own borders, and is prepared to take on the difficulty of negotiating a trade deal with the EU that will not only satisfy Britain’s desires for self-determination and to preserve its global position, but satisfy the 27 members of the EU, particularly Germany, Italy and France, who will want to deal on their own terms.
This clash of perspectives and visions of the future will come to a head when Britain formally announces the execution of Article 50, and talks formally begin. Until then each side will start to form their arguments, positions and compromises, but it is clear the EU will look to make life difficult for a post-Brexit Britain.
The Maltese premier Joseph Muscat stated “Thinking it can be otherwise would indicate a detachment from reality”. The EU has a political ideology under threat which it needs to cling onto. Right wing movements are providing credible and competitive opposition to the status quo governments of the Netherlands and France, thus the EU are determined to ensure that Britain are the only country to abandon the EU ship.
Hence the EU will not be satisfied unless their members have more preferable trading relationships with each other than they do with Britain. May made it clear that she does not want to see the EU attempt to punish Britain, and that a “no deal” outcome will be preferable to a bad deal. Britain can attempt to go down the tax haven route, but it is a dangerous game to attempt to secure commercial security in a country whose populace was already prepared to leave the EU, let alone vote against a Government which may end up damaging workers rights and the NHS even further to secure the presence of multi-national conglomerates.
Outside of trade and people, there are numerous issues that will need agreement, such as the status of the Irish border, as well as the nature of Britain’s other agreements on an international level. The British Government may attempt to secure quick, lucrative deals with international partners such as the USA, but at what cost? The USA could insist on British standards and regulations, often controlled by the EU, being removed in areas such as private ownership of the NHS, food production standards and Donald Trump’s environmental vision in exchange for a quick, trade deal.
May’s statement muddies the waters, with thousands of questions yet to be answered. Yet one answer has been made abundantly clear. Britain has confirmed it will go it alone, it will be truly independent and has stated its intent to stick by the consequences of this decision. Focus will now turn to the Government and its implementation of Article 50 which will signal the start of the real debate.
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