9th October 2017

Sir Nicholas Soames’s Question following the Prime Minister's statement to the House of Commons on UK plans for leaving the EU on Monday, 9th October, 2017.


Statement by The Prime Minister; The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

on ‘UK Plans for Leaving the EU’


Monday 9th October, 2017

House of Commons



Question by Sir Nicholas

Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con)

As my right hon. Friend wrestles with the inevitable compromises essential to securing the opportunities of Brexit in the national interest, and in view of this enormous administrative challenge, will she consider refining the machinery of government by creating an inner Cabinet to drive forward the work across the Government and thus retain greater grip and control over the whole process?

The Prime Minister

Ministers meet in a variety of forms to consider these issues. Before the Florence speech, I was pleased that the whole Cabinet came together and signed up to that speech. Of course, we have various discussions about the various elements of the negotiations, but I can assure my right hon. Friend that we are aware of the need to be able to ensure that we can make swift decisions when that is necessary in the negotiating process.

Volume 629
No 29
Column 51


Full Statement

UK Plans for Leaving the EU

·         The Prime Minister (Mrs Theresa May)

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on our plans for leaving the European Union. Today, the fifth round of negotiations begins in Brussels and this Government are getting on with the job of delivering the democratic will of the British people. As I set out in my speech in Florence, we want to take a creative and pragmatic approach to securing a new, deep and special partnership with the European Union which spans both a new economic relationship and a new security relationship. So let me set out what each of these relationships could look like, before turning to how we get there.

I have been clear that when we leave the European Union we will no longer be members of its single market or its customs union. The British people voted for control of their borders, their laws and their money, and that is what this Government are going to deliver. At the same time, we want to find a creative solution to a new economic relationship—[Interruption.]

At the same time, we want to find a creative solution to a new economic relationship that can support prosperity for all our peoples. We do not want to settle for adopting a model enjoyed by other countries. So we have rejected the idea of something based on European economic area membership, for this would mean having to adopt—automatically and in their entirety—new EU rules over which, in future, we will have little influence and no vote. Neither are we seeking a Canadian-style free trade agreement, for compared with what exists today, this would represent such a restriction on our mutual market access that it would benefit none of our economies.

Instead, I am proposing a unique and ambitious economic partnership. It will reflect our unprecedented position of starting with the same rules and regulations. We will maintain our unequivocal commitment to free trade and high standards, and we will need a framework to manage where we continue to align and where we choose to differ. There will be areas of policy and regulation which are outside the scope of our trade and economic relations where this should be straightforward. There will be areas which do affect our economic relations where we and our European friends may have different goals, or where we share the same goals but want to achieve them through different means. And there will be areas where we want to achieve the same goals in the same ways, because it makes sense for our economies. Because rights and obligations must be held in balance, the decisions we both take will have consequences for the UK’s access to the EU market and for EU access to our market. But this dynamic, creative and unique economic partnership will enable the UK and the EU to work side by side in bringing shared prosperity to our peoples.

Let me turn to the new security relationship. As I said when I visited our troops serving on the NATO mission in Estonia last month, the United Kingdom is ​unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security. We will continue to offer aid and assistance to EU member states that are the victims of armed aggression, terrorism and natural or man-made disasters. We are proposing a bold new strategic agreement that provides a comprehensive framework for future security, law enforcement and criminal justice co-operation: a treaty between the UK and the EU. We are also proposing a far-reaching partnership on how, together, we protect Europe from the threats we face in the world today. That partnership will be unprecedented in its breadth and depth, taking in co-operation on diplomacy, defence and security, and development.

Let me turn to how we build a bridge from where we are now to the new relationship that we want to see. When we leave the European Union on 29 March 2019, neither the UK nor the EU and its member states will be in a position to implement smoothly many of the detailed arrangements that will underpin the new relationship we seek. Businesses will need time to adjust and Governments will need to put new systems in place, and businesses want certainty about the position in the interim. That is why I suggested in my speech at Lancaster House that there should be a period of implementation, and that is why I proposed such a period in my speech in Florence last month. During this strictly time-limited period, we will have left the EU and its institutions, but we are proposing that, for this period, access to one another’s markets should continue on current terms and Britain should also continue to take part in existing security measures.

The framework for the period, which can be agreed under article 50, would be the existing structure of EU rules and regulations. I know that some people may have some concerns about that, but there are two reasons why it makes sense. First, we want our departure from the EU to be as smooth as possible, so it would not make sense to make people and businesses plan for two sets of changes in the relationship between the UK and the EU. Secondly, we should concentrate our negotiating time and capital on what really matters: the future long-term relationship we will have with the EU after the temporary period ends.

During the implementation period, people will continue to be able to come and live and work in the UK, but there will be a registration system—an essential preparation for the new immigration system required to re-take control of our borders. Our intention is that new arrivals would be subject to new rules for EU citizens on long-term settlement. We will also push forward on our future independent trade policy, talking to trading partners across the globe and preparing to introduce deals once the implementation period is over. How long the period should be will be determined simply by how long it will take to prepare and implement the new systems we need. As of today, those considerations point to an implementation period of around two years.

As I said in Florence, because I do not believe that either the EU or the British people will want us to stay in the existing structures for longer than necessary, we could also agree to bring forward aspects of the future framework—such as new dispute resolution mechanisms—more quickly, if that can be done smoothly. At the heart of the arrangements, there should be a double lock: to guarantee a period of implementation, giving businesses and people the certainty that they will be able to prepare ​for the change, and to guarantee that that implementation period will be time-limited, giving everyone the certainty that it will not go on forever.

The purpose of the Florence speech was to move the negotiations forward, and that is exactly what has happened. As Michel Barnier said after the last round of talks, there is a “new dynamic” in the negotiations. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) for all he has done to drive through real and tangible progress in a number of vital areas.

On citizens’ rights, as I have said many times, this Government greatly value the contributions of all EU citizens who have made their lives in our country. We want them to stay. In Florence, I gave further commitments that the rights of EU citizens in the UK—and UK citizens in the EU—will not diverge over time, and committed to incorporating our agreement on citizens’ rights fully into UK law and to making sure that the UK courts can refer directly to it.

Since Florence, there has been more progress, including reaching agreement on reciprocal healthcare and pensions, and encouraging further alignment on a range of important social security rights. I hope that our negotiating teams can now reach full agreement quickly.

On Northern Ireland, we have begun drafting joint principles on preserving the Common Travel Area and associated rights, and we have both stated explicitly that we will not accept any physical infrastructure at the border. We owe it to the people of Northern Ireland—and indeed to everyone on the island of Ireland—to get this right.

Then there is the question of the EU budget. As I have said, this can only be resolved as part of a settlement of all the issues through which we are working. I do not want our partners to fear that they will need to pay more or receive less over the remainder of the current budget plan as a result of our decision to leave. The UK will honour the commitments that we have made during the period of our membership. As we move forwards, we will also want to continue working together in ways that promote the long-term economic development of our continent. That includes continuing to take part in those specific policies and programmes that are greatly to our joint advantage, such as those that promote science, education and culture and our mutual security. As I set out in my speech at Lancaster House, in doing so, we would want to make a contribution to cover our fair share of the costs involved.

I continued discussions on many of these issues when I met European leaders in Tallinn at the end of last month. In bilateral discussions that I have had with Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Szydlo, President Tusk and the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, there was a welcome to the tone set in Florence and the impact that it was having on moving the negotiations forwards.

Preparing for life outside the EU is also about the legislative steps that we take. Our European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will shortly enter Committee, carrying over EU rules and regulations into our domestic law from the moment that we leave the EU. Today, we are publishing two White Papers on trade and customs, ​which pave the way for legislation to allow the UK to operate as an independent trading nation and to create an innovative customs system that will help us achieve the greatest possible tariff and barrier-free trade as we leave the EU. Although it is profoundly in all our interests for the negotiations to succeed, it is also our responsibility as a Government to prepare for every eventuality, so that is exactly what we are doing. The White Papers also support that work, including setting out steps to minimise disruption for businesses and travellers.

A new, deep and special partnership between a sovereign United Kingdom and a strong and successful European Union is our ambition and our offer to our European friends. Achieving that partnership will require leadership and flexibility not just from us, but from our friends—the 27 nations of the EU. As we look forward to the next stage, the ball is in their court, but I am optimistic that we will receive a positive response, because what we are seeking is the best possible deal not just for us, but for our European friends too. Progress will not always be smooth, but by approaching these negotiations in a constructive way—in a spirit of friendship and co-operation and with our sights firmly set on the future—we can prove the doomsayers wrong, and we can seize the opportunities of this defining moment in the history of our nation.

Much of the day-to-day coverage is about process, but this, on the other hand, is vital. I am determined to deliver what the British people voted for and to get it right. That is my duty as Prime Minister. It is our duty as a Government, and it is what we will do. I commend this statement to the House.

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