On Tuesday 18 January 2017, Theresa May set out the 12 objectives which she is seeking to achieve in the Brexit negotiations. These objectives have given us the first clear statement of the type of relationship which the Government wants with the European Union once the UK leaves the Union.
A Hard Brexit
Mrs May was emphatic that the Government would not be seeking "partial membership of the European Union, associate membership of the European Union, or anything that leaves us half-in, half-out".
In response to people who have suggested that the UK might remain with the Customs Union, the Prime Minister was clear that "I do not want Britain to be part of the Common Commercial Policy and I do not want us to be bound by the Common External Tariff".
The Prime Minister re-affirmed her previously stated goal that the Government would "bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain" and that in future all laws would be made in Westminster, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff.
In short this means that the Government will seek to withdraw the UK from the Single Market, the Customs Union and the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union. Irrespective of what arrangement the Government reaches with the EU during the Brexit negotiations or during negotiations which may continue after Brexit, this is a hard Brexit.
What is in the Brexit Blueprint
Whilst the Prime Minister offered much needed clarity on what aspects of European Union membership the UK would not retain post-Brexit, she was far more vague when it came to explaining what the UK's future relationship with the EU would look like.
Mrs May stated that the UK was a "great, global trading nation" and that she wanted "us to be a truly Global Britain". The Prime Minister therefore said that she would seek "a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement with the European Union" which would allow for the "freest possible" trade in goods and services between Britain and the EU member states. Whilst there was limited detail about the terms of this free trade agreement, the Prime Minister did suggest that it might "take in elements of current Single Market arrangements in certain areas" and pointed specifically to the export of cars and to the provision of financial services. This suggests that the Government will seek to agree a special passporting regime to permit financial services companies based in the UK to access EU markets.
The Prime Minister's speech placed a great deal of emphasis on the importance of Britain being able to negotiate trade deals with countries around the world. It is clear that the Government sees this as a great advantage of Brexit and believes that trade negotiations must begin as soon as possible. For this reason, Mrs May was clear that the UK could not remain a full member of the Customs Union, however, she did state that she wants the UK "to have a customs agreement with the EU." Outside of this broad statement, the Prime Minister offered no guidance on how such an agreement might be structured or what such an agreement might contain.
In order to ensure that Britain is able to enter into a variety of trade agreements quickly, Mrs May stressed the importance of removing "as many barriers to trade as possible" and of ensuring that Britain was "free to establish our own tariff schedules at the World Trade Organisation".
The Prime Minister also sought to calm fears that EU citizens currently living in the UK would be forced to leave once the UK leaves the EU. She stated that "we want to guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are already living in Britain, and the rights of British nationals in other member states." Indeed, she seemed to suggest that the reason that this had not already been agreed was that some member states were currently unwilling to reach agreement on this point. Presumably, this is because those member states are seeking to roll this question into the wider Brexit negotiations.
In terms of immigration, Mrs May focussed on the fact that Britain "will get control of the number of people coming to Britain from the EU" and she stressed that the message of the referendum was that the Government must control the number of people entering the UK from Europe.
Overall, the picture painted by the Prime Minister of post-Brexit Britain is one of an outward looking nation. A nation able to trade with the European Union, the Commonwealth and the rest of the world under a network of reciprocal free trade agreements whilst it maintains control of its borders and internal laws and regulations. She depicted an open, positive and confident Britain. Whether that can be delivered through the Brexit negotiations and the various negotiations which will follow once the UK has left the EU remains to be seen and will be discussed in my next post.