May seeks EU co-operation on ‘ambitious but practical’ Brexit vision

Britain’s PM claims roadmap described in speech involves benefits for both UK and EU

UK prime minister Theresa May: “If we were to accept passporting, we would just be a rule-taker.” Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA

UK prime minister Theresa May: “If we were to accept passporting, we would just be a rule-taker.” Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA


Theresa May has urged the European Union to engage with what she described as her “ambitious but practical” vision of a future relationship between Britain and Europe. She told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that the proposals she outlined in a speech in London last Friday represented a good deal for both sides.

“It was a vision that was ambitious but was also practically based and therefore a credible vision,” she said. “The EU themselves have said they want an ambitious and wide-ranging arrangement with us in the future . . . If we look at our future prosperity and in the other 27 countries, the right deal for us will be the right deal for them too.”

In her speech last week, the prime minister acknowledged that Britain would enjoy less access to the EU market after Brexit and that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) would continue to have an indirect influence on Britain. She suggested that Britain would continue to follow EU regulations in some sectors and said the country should remain part of European agencies regulating medicines, chemicals and aviation.

Conservatives on both sides of the Brexit divide remained positive about the prime minister’s speech throughout the weekend, with Brexiteers welcoming her promise that parliament would be free to diverge from EU regulations at any time.

‘Passporting’ rights

Ms May admitted on Friday that, after Brexit, British financial services firms would lose the “passporting” rights which allow them to sell their services across the EU. She claimed on Sunday that Britain did not want such rights because they would mean following EU rules without having a say in them.

“If we were to accept passporting, we would just be a rule-taker. We would have to abide by their rules which were being set elsewhere. Given the importance of financial stability in ensuring the City of London, we can’t just take the same rules without any say in them,” she said.

The prime minister defended her proposal for a “customs partnership” with the EU that would see goods coming into the UK for the domestic market treated differently from those destined for the EU. And she played down the threat of a government defeat if Conservative rebels joined Labour in voting to remain in a customs union with the EU.

Cherry-picking agenda

“What I have set out in terms of a future customs arrangement with the EU, I think, is actually what most people want to see,” she said.

Former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine was unusual among prominent Conservatives in criticising Ms May’s Brexit speech, telling the Observer it was a cherry-picking agenda that the EU could not accept.

“The speech just moves us further down the cherry-picking road. It set out the cherries that Britain wants to pick but that approach completely ignores the fact that the EU has said, ‘sorry there is no cherry picking’,” he said. “Why is it that after 18 months since the referendum we have not got any closer with these issues? The answer is simple: because no one has got any answer about how to do it.”