World

PM May: Britain to leave EU single market

LONDON: Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday said Britain will leave the European Union's (EU) single market in order to restrict immigration in a clean break from the bloc, but lawmakers can vote on the final deal.

"Brexit must mean control of the number of people coming from Europe, and that is what we will deliver. What I am proposing cannot mean membership of the single market," Mrs May (right) said, during a highly-anticipated speech at London's Lancaster House.

She added that Britain would seek a trade deal giving "the greatest possible access" to the market on its departure.

The prime minister also announced that any divorce deal with the remaining EU members must be approved by votes in both chambers of Britain's parliament.

Britain has two years to negotiate a break-up deal once Mrs May triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, officially declaring the country's intention to quit, or face leaving with no agreement.

She has promised to trigger Article 50 by the end of March, and said that she believed a final settlement and trade deal could be simultaneously negotiated within the timeframe.

Foreign partners doubt such a timetable, with Austrian Foreign Minister Hans Joerg Schelling saying Brexit would take five years.

"It is not clear if it will be possible to negotiate the UK's exit from the EU and the terms of a future cooperation at the same time," he said.

PHASED PROCESS

Seeking to calm fears of a sudden jolt to the economy on abruptly leaving the EU, Mrs May said she would seek a "phased process of implementation".

Her direction will be cheered by those who want to leave the EU, but will dismay those who fear the impact on Britain's economy.

EU countries accounted for 44 per cent of Britain's total exports in goods and services in 2015, with the country recording a £68.6 billion (S$120 billion) trade deficit with the bloc.

The British currency has endured a rocky ride since the vote last summer to leave the union, but sterling responded strongly to Mrs May's speech, wiping out losses earlier in the week to stand at US$1.2340.

Britain's finance minister Philip Hammond adopted a tough line on Sunday, warning that Britain might undercut the EU economically to remain competitive if it faces EU tariffs.

Mr Hammond said he wanted Britain to still be a "recognisably European-style economy with European-style taxation systems, European-style regulation systems."

However, London would have to change course "if we are forced", to "regain competitiveness", he told Germany's Welt am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday.

French Finance Minister Michel Sapin on Tuesday accused Mrs May's government of making up its negotiating policy on the hoof.

"No one was prepared," he said. "You can see very well that they are improvising, with flip-flopping between accommodating positions... and harder positions." - AFP

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