On 17 January 2017, Prime Minister Teresa May gave a speech outlining the British government's negotiating objectives for exiting the EU. The full text of the speech can be accessed here.
The objectives were presented as a 12 point plan.
1. The government will provide certainty and clarity around the negotiations wherever it can.
May confirmed for the first time that Parliament would have its say on the final deal, saying: “I can confirm the government will put the final deal … before a vote in both Houses of Parliament.”
2. Control of laws
The United Kingdom will take back control of its laws and bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the United Kingdom.
3. Strengthen the Union between the four nations of the United Kingdom.
The devolved parliaments are to be fully engaged in the process by way of the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations.
May has committed to maintaining the common travel area with the Republic of Ireland.
5. Controlling EU immigration
May had repeatedly said that control over the UK’s borders was a Brexit priority. She did so again today: while wanting to continue to attract “the brightest and best to study and work in Britain”, she said, “we will get control over the number of people coming to Britain from the EU” but has yet, however, to give any indication of the kind of immigration system she envisages for EU citizens after Brexit.
6. Status of EU citizens in UK and UK citizens in EU states
May said that the government wants to guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK – and those of British citizens on the continent – “as early as we can”. She claimed that just one or two EU states were blocking an early deal on the rights of EU nationals living in the UK.
7. Workers’ rights to be protected
She said that the Government will protect the rights of workers’ set out in European legislation, and will build further on them.
8. Free trade with European markets
The Prime Minister does not want the UK to stay in the single market. Instead she will seek “the greatest possible access to the single market through a “new, comprehensive and bold free trade agreement”. She suggested the UK would slash taxes to poach investment if the EU failed to offer the UK a good trade deal: “if we were excluded from accessing the single market – we would be free to change the basis of Britain’s economic model.”
The EEA option The UK could become a member of the EEA after leaving the EU by joining EFTA, giving it single market membership in exchange for a financial contribution and accepting the core principles of the EU’s internal market, including free movement of people, but May clarified today that she is not seeking partial or associate membership.
The EU budget She said the UK may continue with modest payments to the EU after Brexit.
9. New trade agreements with other countries
The UK must also be free to strike trade agreements with nations from outside the European Union.
The customs union May wants the UK to be able to negotiate its own trade agreements but also wants tariff-free trade with Europe and cross-border trade to be as frictionless as possible. She said she would like to retain elements of customs union membership.
10. May wants the UK to be one of the best places in the world for science and innovation saying the UK will welcome continuing collaboration with European partners on major science research.
11. Cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism.
The UK will continue to cooperate with its European neighbours in areas such as crime, terrorism and foreign affairs.
12. A smooth orderly Brexit.
May said she wanted agreement to be reached on a future partnership within the two-year time-frame of the Article 50 talks, with an implementation period that could vary in length according to the complexity of the various aspects of Brexit. She seeks to avoid “a disruptive cliff-edge”.
Although more of the detail clearly needs to be fleshed out, the UK Prime Minister’s speech is the most important statement of UK government policy on Brexit since the referendum in June. Much of the language of the speech indicated a “hard Brexit”. The confirmation that the UK will leave the Single Market ends the speculation that the UK would seek a deal to retain access to the market, and has already been well received by European Council President, Donald Tusk. May has claimed that the UK could negotiate an agreement that gives some of the benefits of customs union membership while still allowing other trade deals to be negotiated. However, many say that there is a limit to what the UK will be able to achieve in the negotiations if it is not prepared to impose the EU's tariffs on non-EU countries. It is well documented that the negotiations between the EU and the UK cannot begin until the UK serves the Article 50 notice. May had previously said that she wanted to trigger Article 50 by the end of March, and did not seek to alter that timetable in her speech.