British Prime Minister Theresa May admitted today the UK would both lose influence and not be able to ‘cherry pick’ the advantages of EU membership, as she briefed MPs in London on the two years of unprecedented negotiations with Brussels ahead.
May was addressing the House of Commons as, simultaneously, European Council President Donald Tusk received the Article 50 notification letter in Brussels, and held a press conference where he said, “there is no reason to pretend this is a happy day”.
“We miss you already,” Tusk said.
It marks the beginning of the end of the UK’s members of the bloc, after 44 years.
May promised her ambition was a “new, deep and special partnership” with the EU. And she conceded that the UK would no longer be a member of the single market, after admitting that London could not pick and choose among the four freedoms available to EU member states.
Liberal, democratic, values of Europe
But she was heckled badly when she said the world “perhaps now more than ever needs the liberal democratic values of Europe”.
Whilst repeatedly declaring Brexit was the “declared democratic will of the British people”, following last June’s referendum, May admitted that “today is a celebration for some, disappointment for others”.
And she conceded that “we know that we will lose influence…”, citing, specifically, decisions over the EU economy.
But she said London would go into the unprecedented negotiations “constructively, respectfully and with sincere cooperation”.
Whilst there were no new positions set out in May’s statement, she reiterated a promise to deal with EU citizens in the UK’s rights “as early as we can”, and that it was an “early priority”.
May herself was in favour of Remain during the referendum, before winning the Conservative leadership after David Cameron resigned.
— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) March 29, 2017
For the Scottish National Party, Angus Robertson told May she was “making Scottish independence inevitable”, as 62% of Scots had voted Remain.
May shot back that her own constituency in south-east England had voted Remain, but now the country must unite.
The PM had earlier told the House of Commons that the repatriation of powers from Brussels would, in fact, mean “more laws made in Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast” and that would “strengthen the union”.
The SNP-led Scottish Parliament voted yesterday to hold a second referendum on independence after the 2014 vote was lost 55%-45%.
For the opposition Labour Party, badly split on the EU issue, Jeremy Corbyn called the upcoming talks “the most important negotiations in modern times”, and warned against a “low wage tax haven” Britain.
And Corbyn said a ‘no deal’ failure of the talks would be a “failure of historic proportions”.
May, in fact, promised not just to keep workers’ rights, but to “build on the rights of workers” in a new free trade deal with the EU.
Again calling for national unity, May said Brexit was “an historic moment from which there can be no turning back”.
Defeated Labour leader Ed Miliband told the PM “unity must be earned, not just demanded”.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron pointed out the UK was signing up now for an unwritten deal.
May said Britain would “control immigration so that we continue to attract the brightest and the best”.
“We are going to take this opportunity to build a stronger, fairer Britain; a country that our children and grandchildren are proud to call home,” she said.
She said the UK would pursue “a new deep and special partnership” with the European Union based on cooperation in areas such as security and trade.
But May added that Britain will “take control of our own laws” and cease to be under the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union.
“We understand that there will be consequences for the UK of leaving the EU. We know that we will lose influence over the rules that affect the European economy,” she said.
- PDF: UK government's Article 50 letter to the European Council
- Full text of Theresa May's statement