Britain wants a bespoke model for its future ties with the European Union, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Thursday (28 July), adding that its exit deal must address British voters’ concerns over immigration.
Speaking after a meeting with Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico in Bratislava – the latest in a flurry of diplomatic visits following Britain’s June 23 decision to leave the EU – May stressed the need to have an open mind about what deal could be struck on the key issues of free movement and trade.
“We should be driven by what is in the best interests of the UK and what is going to work for the European Union, not by the models that already exist,” she said in a news conference.
“We need to find a solution that addresses the concerns of the British people about free movement while getting the best possible deal on trade in goods and services,” May said.
In searching to solve the riddle of how to restrict EU migrants’ freedom to live and work in Britain but retain access to the EU’s single market for goods and services, politicians have picked over how other outsiders interact with the bloc.
Britain could try to join the European Economic Area or European Free Trade Association, forging a similar close partnership to those that the likes of Norway, Switzerland or Iceland have with the EU.
While that might please the EU, May would have to persuade Brexit voters to agree to the EU budget contributions and migrants that are accepted by some of those countries.
Crucially it would also lack the kind of EU market access for services which is so important to Britain’s big financial sector.
EU falling in love with itself
The European Union seems to be falling in love with itself and needs to use the time before Britain formally starts divorce proceedings to create a new vision of Europe, Slovak Prime Minister Fico said.
Britain’s shock vote to leave the EU in June has led to calls for reforms in the bloc to connect it better to its people after disillusionment has risen after years of economic weakness and an influx of refugees.
“I have always said … the EU seems to be falling in love with itself,” Fico said at a news conference with May.
“We wanted to be the best in the world. But it seems many regions in world are far ahead of us. Let’s use Brexit as a good occasion to reevaluate this.”
May repeated her assertion that Britain would not trigger Article 50, the formal mechanism for leaving the EU, to begin exit talks before the end of the year, and Fico, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said the bloc should use this time to reconsider its global role.
“We simply have to author a new vision for our people otherwise we will see further fragmentation and destabilisation of European political systems,” Fico said.
Boris Johnson, the new British foreign secretary, today (28 July) met his French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault, the man who branded him a “liar with his back to the wall” after the referendum campaign on the UK’s membership of the EU.