January 18th, 2017
In a long-awaited speech, British Prime Minister Theresa May outlined her Government’s plans to pull the United Kingdom (UK) out of the European Union (EU) yesterday. The speech follows the 23 June 2016 referendum on the question of whether the UK should leave the EU.
Here are the highlights of the Prime Minister’s speech:
- The UK will not remain a part of the European single market. This was probably the most important aspect of the speech. The European single market has been one of the most ambitious experiments in history. Formed in 1993, it has strived continuously to increase trade between European nations by decreasing tariffs, increasing competition, allocating resources according to specialisation, etc. The single market is the backbone of the EU; for all intents and purposes, it is the EU.May declared that the UK would leave the European single market. She said, “European leaders have said many times that membership means accepting the “four freedoms” of goods, capital, services and people. And being out of the EU but a member of the single market would mean complying with the EU’s rules and regulations that implement those freedoms, without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are … It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all … So we do not seek membership of the single market.”
- May’s Government will argue for a free trade agreement with the EU. After announcing that the UK would leave the European single market, May said her Government would seek “the greatest possible access to [the single market] through a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious free trade agreement.”Details regarding this agreement are yet to be debated with EU officials. With the UK opting for a hard Brexit and EU member states – Germany and France in particular – unwilling to cut special deals with the UK, May will be fighting an uphill battle if she wants a “bold” free trade agreement with the EU.
- The final Brexit deal will be put to the vote in both houses of the British Parliament. May stated that the British Parliament would get to vote on the deal once it is finalised. This, of course, means that the Parliament can block the deal altogether. In response to these concerns, May told reporters, “I am sure the British Parliament will want to deliver the views of the British people and respect the democratic decision that was taken.”
- The UK will not retain full membership of the customs union. Under the customs union, EU countries do not impose tariffs on each other’s goods, while imposing the same tariff on goods imported from outside the EU. May said she would not have the UK “bound” by the shared external tariffs. She said the UK would be “striking our own comprehensive trade agreements with other countries”.
- Britain will be in control of the number of EU citizens moving to the UK. Before the 23 June 2016 referendum, while May vocally supported the “Remain” campaign, she was critical of mass levels of immigration into the country. On the question of immigration from the EU, May said, “Britain is an open and tolerant country. We will always want immigration, especially high-skilled immigration, we will always want immigration from Europe, and we will always welcome individual migrants as friends. But the message from the public before and during the referendum campaign was clear: Brexit must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe. And that is what we will deliver.”
The new immigration policy is yet to be revealed, but it will undoubtedly be more protectionist and stringent.
- Britain’s payments to the EU budget. While May did not elaborate on this issue, she said that “because we will no longer be members of the single market … the days of Britain making vast contributions to the European Union every year will end … [However, there may be] some specific European programmes in which we might want to participate. If so, and this will be for us to decide, it is reasonable that we should make an appropriate contribution.”
- May said that EU leaders would be committing an act of “calamitous self-harm” if they tried to punish the UK for leaving the Union. She declared that “no deal for Britain would be better than a bad deal” for Britain.
It must be noted that negotiations on a deal cannot begin until the UK invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty (which forms the constitutional basis of the EU). Theresa May has said she will trigger the Article by the end of March, though a schedule has not yet been made available to the public. Once Article 50 is invoked, negotiations will have to be concluded within two years.
With Theresa May finally revealing her Government’s plans for Brexit, and the invoking of Article 50 slated to take place in a few weeks’ time, European and British civil servants, diplomats, and politicians will finally have to negotiate the arduous conditions of Brexit. It will be a long, tedious process. It will also take place simultaneously with many crucial elections in the EU – including in France and Germany.
The stakes are extremely high. 2017 will be a crucial year for the European Union, one that will determine the future of the Union itself.
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