Thursday

23rd Mar 2017

British PM sticks to red line on EU migrants

  • May with EU Council leader Donald Tusk in Brussels on Friday (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

British prime minister Theresa May has repeated that the UK wants free trade but not free immigration with the EU, while also speaking warmly of “friends, allies” in Europe.

Speaking to press after her EU summit debut, she said: “The UK will be a fully sovereign and independent country, free to take its own decisions on a whole host of different issues, such as how we choose to control immigration, but we still want to trade freely in goods and services in Europe”.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

“The UK remains committed to trading freely with our European neighbours”, she said.

The position was the same one she recently outlined at her Conservative Party’s conference in England, but her tone, after her first-ever EU meeting, was more cordial.

She noted that the future EU deal must “work for the interests of both sides”.

She called for “mature, cooperative” EU-UK relations and a “smooth” departure.

She also muted her previous criticism of the EU27 for having met alone to discuss EU reforms, saying on Friday that they needed a “process” to handle Brexit.

She said the UK would play a “full and productive role” in the EU Council until it departs, and that it was “enthusiastic about cooperation with our friends and allies after we leave”.

She noted that she had made strong interventions in Thursday and Friday’s talks on EU migration policy, on the need to pressure Russia on Syria, and on backing a Canada-EU free trade treaty.

“I was not backwards in coming forwards”, she said.

Those interventions stood in contrast to her Brexit presentation, which lasted just five minutes at 1AM on Friday.

Recalling the five-minute Brexit chat, Enda Kenny, the Irish leader said on Friday that May did not say “anything new, but the fact that the referendum had taken place, and there was now an acceptance of that.”

He added that May said “she herself had campaigned to stay [in the EU], but as prime minister now was wanting to see that this [Brexit] was implemented in ful”.

Viktor Orban, the Hungarian leader, said of May’s EU debut: “I had a positive reaction to what the prime minister had said, her experience was impressive, it was a clear and honest briefing, she could be a good partner during the Brexit negotiations”.

He said Hungary felt close to the UK and wanted close relations after Brexit, but he warned that “not everybody belongs to this club”.

May on Friday also met European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker for lunch.

Juncker had previously said the UK cannot keep single market access if it does not let in EU migrants.

May’s office said she told him the UK wanted a “bespoke” EU deal that allowed “controls on the numbers of people who come to Britain from Europe”.

When asked about meeting May, Juncker shrugged and said “Pfff!” in what may have been a calculated insult.

The EU summit also struggled, and ultimately failed, to get the Belgian region of Wallonia to agree to a Canada free-trade pact called Ceta.

The UK exit talks are expected to start at the end of March next.

Speaking for Malta, which will help manage the negotiations as the EU presidency at the time, prime minister Joseph Muscat said the Ceta mess was a bad omen for Brexit.

"To my mind, if there are all these problems to have a simple trade agreement with Canada, just imagine [getting] an agreement with the United Kingdom”, he said.

Tusk warns UK on harsh realities of Brexit

EU Council chief Donald Tusk told London there will be no winners from Brexit, and no compromise on freedom of movement, yet held out an olive branch for the future.

May extends Brexit olive branch

The British PM is to launch new Brexit talks with Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales, as nerves fray, also among banks, at the prospect of a "hard" EU exit.

May struggles to contain Brexit angst

Government under fire from Scotland and from opposition MPs for "chaotic" Brexit preparations, despite May's new committee and pledge on parliament debates.

Column / Brexit Briefing

What’s the price of failing to prepare?

Theresa May is the strongest and most vulnerable prime minister in living memory. That may seem like a contradiction in terms for a leader who, if not obviously likable, is seen as highly competent.

News in Brief

  1. Man arrested in Antwerp after trying to mow people down
  2. Marine Le Pen goes to Russia
  3. Dutch post-election talks prioritise green-right coalition
  4. EU summons Turkish envoy over threats to Europeans
  5. British police make first arrests in London terror probe
  6. EU commission has received Facebook reply on WhatsApp
  7. Rome expects thousands of protesters at summit
  8. Dijsselbloem says his comments had 'Dutch directness'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved
  2. European Jewish Congress"Extremists Still Have the Ability and Motivation to Murder in Europe" Says EJC President
  3. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Ads
  4. ILGA-EuropeTime for a Reality Check on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  5. UNICEFHuman Cost to Refugee and Migrant Children Mounts Up One Year After EU-Turkey Deal
  6. Malta EU 2017Council Adopts New Rules to Improve Safety of Medical Devices
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Research: How to Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy
  8. Party of European SocialistsWe Must Renew Europe for All Europeans
  9. MEP Tomáš ZdechovskýThe European Commission Has Failed in Its Fight Against Food Waste
  10. ILGA-EuropeEP Recognises Discrimination Faced by Trans & Intersex People
  11. Nordic Council of Ministers25 Nordic Bioeconomy Cases for Sustainable Change
  12. European Free AllianceSupporting Artur Mas: Democracy and Freedom Cannot Be Convicted

Latest News

  1. UN could step in where EU fails in child migrant protection
  2. May: London attacker was known to the police
  3. Ending the migrant deal with Turkey may save the EU
  4. Poland unlikely to face EU discipline on rule of law
  5. Rutte courted Wilders' voters, now he must deliver
  6. Barnier to UK: trade talks will come after settling accounts
  7. EU declaration to voice unity in troubled times
  8. Terror attack shuts down UK parliament