May vows to seek trade deals with other countries despite EU rules

Theresa May will tell MPs that the UK will seek to sign trade deals with countries around the world despite potentially being bound by European Union rules for around two years after Brexit.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 18th December 2017, 8:59 am
Updated Monday, 18th December 2017, 9:06 am
Prime Minister Theresa May pictured after attending a church service near her Maidenhead constituency. Picture date: Sunday December 17, 2017. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Wire
Prime Minister Theresa May pictured after attending a church service near her Maidenhead constituency. Picture date: Sunday December 17, 2017. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

The Prime Minister will say that even though the UK is leaving the single market and customs union in March 2019 she wants “access to one another’s markets” to continue “as now” during an implementation period.

The EU’s guidelines say that during any transition period the UK would have to comply with the bloc’s trade policy - preventing it from striking its own deals with other countries.

But Mrs May will say the UK wants to sign agreements which would come into force after the “strictly time-limited” period has ended.

“We will prepare for our future independent trade policy by negotiating - and where possible signing - trade deals with third countries, which could come into force after the conclusion of the implementation period,” she will say as she updates the Commons on a Brussels summit which saw her 27 EU counterparts agree to move on to the next phase of Brexit talks.

Mrs May a nd her senior ministers will also begin the process of thrashing out the Government’s plans for a post-Brexit UK-EU trade deal as Brussels indicated she may not get the “special partnership” she wants.

A meeting of the Brexit “war cabinet” - formally called the Cabinet European Union Exit and Trade Committee - will take place on Monday, with a full Cabinet on Tuesday, as ministers formally consider the relationship the Government wants with the EU.

The Prime Minister will say there is a “shared desire” between the UK and EU for “rapid progress on an implementation period” before any UK-EU deal comes fully into effect.

The EU’s negotiating position makes clear that the bloc expects the UK to observe all of its rules - including on freedom of movement - and accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) during this time.

Mrs May will say that “ we would not be in the single market or the customs union, as we will have left the European Union” but “w e would propose that our access to one another’s markets would continue as now”.

Indicating that free movement rules will not continue in exactly the same way, she will say that “d uring this period we intend to register new arrivals from the EU as preparation for our future immigration system”.

Prominent Eurosceptics on the Tory benches have already warned against accepting an implementation period which would leave the UK bound by EU laws without a say over how they are made.

The Brexit Cabinet committee meeting will potentially see a clash between ministers who favour the closest possible ties with the EU in future - requiring ongoing alignment with Brussels’ regulations - and those who seek a looser arrangement giving the UK more flexibility to strike favourable deals around the world.

In an early indication of his position, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told the Sunday Times: “What we need to do is something new and ambitious, which allows zero tariffs and frictionless trade but still gives us that important freedom to decide our own regulatory framework, our own laws and do things in a distinctive way in the future.”

He said that if Britain were forced to mirror EU laws after Brexit “we would have gone from a member state to a vassal state”.

Mrs May has rejected pre-existing models for a future UK-EU relationship such as Norway-style membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) or a Canadian-style free trade deal on goods.

Brexit Secretary David Davis described his vision of the deal as “Canada, plus, plus, plus” - taking in not only trade but services and co-operation in other areas.

But the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told Prospect magazine: “They have to realise there won’t be any cherry picking. We won’t mix up the various scenarios to create a specific one and accommodate their wishes, mixing, for instance, the advantages of the Norwegian model, member of the single market, with the simple requirements of the Canadian one.

“No way. They have to face the consequences of their own decision.”

The complexity of the Brexit process - and the potential for the UK’s separation not to be fully realised until 2021 - could keep Mrs May in Downing Street because any leadership change could thwart the delicate negotiations, The Times suggested.

One cabinet minister told the newspaper: “ There is no clean and simple moment when she will or can leave. I think the leadership contest will be pushed back and back.”

Meanwhile the Guardian reported that Tory Brexit rebels have urged Mrs May to reach out to Labour MPs to form a consensus on a “soft” exit from the EU.

One rebel reportedly said independent -minded Labour MPs would “respond positively to a request to provide support to a government that is seen to be doing the right thing “.

Tory former Cabinet minister and leading Leave campaigner Iain Duncan Smith told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “l don’t buy this idea of a fixed position in the world. It’s not a case of less trade, it’s a case of a different type of trade, and British business will have to learn, as they do, to get by in a different world.

“And to bear in mind, we are looking to make trade arrangements which will make life easier for us with other markets. So, you have to look at these things no longer in a case of just the European Union.”