Theresa May says UK will not stay in EU ‘by the back door’

British PM promises ‘Brexit means Brexit’ as cabinet discusses strategy at Chequers

Theresa May has ruled out a second referendum on Britain's EU membership and will not seek parliamentary approval before starting formal exit talks by invoking article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Addressing her cabinet at the start of a meeting at Chequers, the prime minister said there should be no doubt about the government's determination to implement June's referendum decision.

"We must continue to be very clear that 'Brexit means Brexit', that we're going to make a success of it. That means there's no second referendum; no attempts to sort of stay in the EU by the back door; that we're actually going to deliver on this," she said.

Ministers discussed Brexit during a meeting of the political cabinet, which officials do not attend and for which no minutes are taken. A spokeswoman for the prime minister said the discussion focused on the government's wish to control immigration from the EU after Brexit while continuing to trade with the rest of Europe under the most favourable terms.

"Several cabinet members made it clear that we are leaving the EU but not leaving Europe, with a decisive view that the model we are seeking is one unique to the United Kingdom and not an off-the-shelf solution. This must mean controls on the numbers of people who come to Britain from Europe but also a positive outcome for those who wish to trade goods and services," the spokeswoman said.


The cabinet agreed that, although Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would be consulted in advance of triggering article 50, they would not have a veto over it.

Earlier, Ms May appeared to rule out seeking an arrangement such as that enjoyed by Norway, which is outside the EU but is part of the European single market and allows free movement of people from the EU. She told Norway's prime minister, Erna Solberg, that Britain would look at "what is going to work best for the UK and what is going to work for the European Union rather than necessarily pursuing an existing model".

Hardline advocates of Brexit want Britain to leave the single market as well as the EU and backbench Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg warned on Wednesday that remaining in the single market would be a reversal of the referendum decision.

“The single market is the engine room of EU regulation; it’s the requirement for free movement of people that comes with it that has put people off the European Union and so I think any effort to keep us within the single market is basically rejecting the referendum result,” he said.

Ms May will meet some of her EU counterparts, including the leaders of Germany, France and Italy, when she attends a G20 summit in China later this week. On September 15th, the leaders of all EU countries except Britain will discuss Brexit at a meeting in Bratislava.

A new ICM poll for the Guardian puts the Conservatives 14 points ahead of Labour, with Ukip in third place.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times