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UK PM Theresa May sets out elements of Brexit strategy in Conservative party speech

In a speech to her Conservative Party, Prime Minister Theresa May has outlined a schedule for Brexit which would see the UK leave the EU by 2019 and decide as a "sovereign country" how to control immigration.

In her first speech to the Conservative Party faithful as their leader, UK Prime Minister Theresa May has outlined her strategy for leaving the European Union after membership lasting more than 40 years.

"We are going to be a fully independent, sovereign country - a country that is no longer part of a political union with supranational institutions that can override national parliaments and courts," May said in her speech on Sunday. 

"And that means we are going, once more, to have the freedom to make our own decisions on a whole host of different matters, from the way we label our food to the way in which we choose to control immigration," she said.

In a referendum on June 23, the British electorate was split 52 percent in favor of leaving the European Union, with 49 percent against. May said the vote was a "clear message from the British people that they want us to control movement of people coming into the UK."

Exit schedule

In press and television interviews ahead of her speech, May said Article 50 to start the two-year process to leave the EU would be triggered before the end of March 2017.

"There will be no unnecessary delays in invoking Article 50. We will invoke it when we are ready. And we will be ready soon. We will invoke Article 50 no later than the end of March next year," May said.

The first round of national French elections will be held in April, and elections in Germany are due at a date to be determined on a Sunday between August 27 and October 22.

May said a "Great Repeal Bill" would be brought before parliament to remove the European Communities Act 1972 from the statute book and enshrine all existing EU law into British law.

The timing of the Article 50 decision would give parliament a year from April 2019 until the next general election scheduled for May 2020 to start repealing individual parts of EU law. The legal changes would therefore be taking place at the same time as election campaigning.

"Parliament put the decision to leave or remain inside the EU in the hands of the people. And the people gave their answer with emphatic clarity," May told the party conference. "So now it is up to the government not to question, quibble or backslide on what we have been instructed to do, but to get on with the job," she said.

In the June referendum, a majority of voters in England and Wales backed Brexit but voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted for the UK to stay in the EU. However, May said Sunday the UK would leave as a united country.

"We voted in the referendum as one United Kingdom, we will negotiate as one UK, and we will leave the EU as one UK. There is no opt-out from Brexit," she said. "And I will never allow divisive nationalists to undermine the precious union between the four nations of our United Kingdom."

European response

EU leaders have said if Britain wants free trade with Europe it will have to allow freedom of movement, but May said Britain would push for access to the single market while also having autonomy over immigration laws.

 "I want it to involve free trade, in goods and services. I want it to give British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate in the single market and let European businesses do the same here," May said. "But let me be clear. We are not leaving the European Union only to give up control of immigration again," she said.

"It's not just important for the UK, but important for Europe as a whole that we're able to do this in the best possible way so we have the least disruption for businesses, and when we leave the EU we have a smooth transition from the EU," May told delegates. 

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, said Sunday that May's statement had brought "welcome clarity" to the situation.

However, the Reuters news agency cited criticism from an unnamed senior German official. "It is beyond comprehension that the politicians who campaigned for Brexit for months have no idea what they want, they have no plan at all," the official said.

In her TV interview on Sunday, May had asked for "preparatory work" with European partners but to date EU leaders have rejected her appeals for immediate, informal talks. They have held the line that it is up to Britain to say what relationship it wants from outside the bloc: a position of no dialogue with London until a Europe-wide response has been agreed.

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jm/cmk (Reuters, AFP)

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