Sat, Mar 03, 2018 - Page 7 News List

May to outline post-Brexit trade relationship with EU


British Prime Minister Theresa May was yesterday to detail plans for a new economic relationship with the EU after Brexit, amid heightened tensions with Brussels over the implications for Northern Ireland.

In a much-anticipated major speech, just weeks before trade talks with the EU are due to begin, May was to argue that Britain must forge its own path free from the bloc’s current rules.

However, she was expected to call for the “broadest and deepest possible agreement, covering more sectors and cooperating more fully than any free-trade agreement” that exists, according to extracts issued by her office on Thursday.

She would say this is “achievable” and in the interests of the EU and Britain because of how closely they are currently aligned.

“Rather than having to bring two different systems closer together, the task will be to manage the relationship once we are two separate legal systems,” May was set to say.

EU leaders have been pressing the prime minister to clarify what she wants before they agree their position on the future economic partnership at a summit later this month.

Brussels this week raised the pressure with a draft treaty suggesting that Northern Ireland could stay in a customs union with the EU while the rest of Britain remained outside.

The proposal was offered as a fallback option if London failed to come up with a better solution to avoid new customs checks between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland, where some fear a “hard border” could upset the fragile peace.

However, it prompted outrage in Westminster, where May warned it threatened the UK’s integrity and was something that “no UK prime minister could ever agree to.”

May was yesterday to stress that any Brexit deal “must strengthen our union of nations.”

May has said Britain will leave the EU’s single market and customs union after Brexit, in a bid to end mass migration and ensure it no longer has to follow the bloc’s rules.

She was yesterday to emphasize that the 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU “was a vote to take control of our borders, laws and money.”

However, EU leaders have warned that Britain cannot expect to sever formal ties with its closest trading partner and still reap the same benefits.

EU President Donald Tusk repeated this on Thursday, when he visited May in Downing Street, saying: “There can be no frictionless trade outside of the customs union and the single market.”

British euroskeptics have warned that staying within those institutions is akin to not leaving the EU at all.

British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Boris Johnson suggested this week that the row over Northern Ireland’s status was a political ploy to force the government into changing course.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, a euroskeptic lawmaker in May’s Conservative Party, told reporters that there were “technological solutions” to avoiding a hard Irish border.

For Britain to stay in a customs union, forced to follow EU rules while losing its seat at the table as an EU member, would be “fatal for Brexit,” he said.

However, the main opposition Labour Party on Monday came out in favor of the idea, which is already backed by main business lobby groups.

Their change in stance raises the stakes in parliament, which is to vote on the final exit deal and where May has only a slim majority.

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