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British press: May to opt for hard EU exit

January 15, 2017

"A truly global Britain" beyond Brexit is to be proposed by Prime Minister Theresa May in a key speech next Tuesday, according to Downing Street. British newspapers say she will opt for a "hard" divorce from Europe.

Belgien Brüssel EU Gipfeltreffen Premierministerin Theresa May
Image: picture-alliance/AP Images/A. Grant

British Sunday newspapers said May would outline a path next Tuesday toward a "hard" and "clean" exit from EU membership as her modus for triggering in March two years' of British departure talks under the bloc's Article 50 procedure.

May, who so far has revealed little on her negotiating stance, is to deliver this speech at London's Lancaster House to foreign diplomats and senior British officials involved in the EU departure process.

A spokesman from May's office, often named Downing Street after its London location, on Sunday described reports carried by Britain's "Sunday Times," "Sunday Telegraph" and "The Sun" as speculation.

Last week, she said a post-Brexit Britain would not be able to keep "bits" of its EU membership, prompting a further fall in the pound.

Take it or leave it

Senior EU leaders have previously warned Britain it could not "cherry pick" or selectively retain benefits enshrined in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty's "four freedoms" - unlimited movement of goods, capital, people and services.

On Saturday, chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier warned that financial stability would be at risk during what he expected to be very tough talks with Britain.

The "Sunday Telegraph" said May would say Britain must have full control of its borders after the departure, in what the newspaper called a "big gamble on a clean Brexit." It warned that her position "risks exposing deep splits" in May's party.

The "Sunday Times" said May's speech would "make clear that the UK is set to pull out of the single market and the European customs union in order to regain control of immigration and end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice."

"May's hard Brexit stance will put her on a collision course with former ministers on the Tory (Conservative) back benches who believe the UK should stay in the single market," it said.

Belgien EU-Kommission Michel Barnier
Barnier: four freedoms at stake in tough talks Image: picture-alliance/dpa/O. Hoslet

Hammond posits tax wrangle

The German newspaper "Welt am Sonntag" quoted British finance minister Phillip Hammond Sunday as warning that Britain could use its corporate tax rate as a form of leverage in Brexit negotiations.

Hammond acknowledged that if Britain left without EU market access "then we could suffer from the economic damage at least in the short-term."

If so, Britain could be "forced" to change its economic model to regain "competitiveness," he added.

Hammond said the British government had not yet taken a firm position on immigration controls, but added that "the message from the referendum is that we must control our immigration policy."

Trade war with Europe?

British opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Hammond was risking "some kind of trade war with Europe in the future."

Corbyn added that he would not block the triggering of Article 50. Britain is still waiting for an internal legal ruling on whether May should get parliamentary approval before invoking departure negotiations.

Großbritannien Jeremy Corbyn
Corbyn points to risk of trade war with Europe Image: Getty Images/C. Furlong

'Get on with it'

In June last year, Britons narrowly voted for Brexit by a 52 to 48 percent after a deeply divisive campaign.

Downing Street said Sunday May in her speech would call on Britons to reject the acrimony and "insults" of last year and "unite to make a success of Brexit" for a "truly global Britain" and focus on a "Britain outside the EU."

The public and parliament wanted the government to "get on with it," it added.

May, who last year backed the Remain campaign, replaced David Cameron as conservative premier after the referendum, saying "Brexit means Brexit."

ipj/rc (Reuters, AFP, dpa)