Sunday

5th Feb 2023

UK to start 'hard' EU talks in March

  • May: "We have voted to leave the European Union and become a fully independent, sovereign country" (Photo: Reuters)

British leader Theresa May has pledged to start EU exit talks in March and to prioritise British “sovereignty” on immigration over single market access.

She told the Conservative party conference in Birmingham on Sunday (2 October) that “we will invoke Article 50 no later than the end of March next year”.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

“We have voted to leave the European Union and become a fully independent, sovereign country,” she said.

“We will do what independent, sovereign countries do. We will decide for ourselves how we control immigration. And we will be free to pass our own laws”.

“Let me be clear: We are not leaving the European Union only to give up control of immigration again,” she added.

“We are going to be a fully independent, sovereign country - a country that is no longer part of a political union with supranational institutions that can override national parliaments and courts.”

She gave few details on her negotiating tactics, but she said she would seek the “best possible deal” for British businesses keen to keep trading in Europe.

She also said that she would introduce what she called a Great Repeal Act early next year that would, once the talks end, undo the 1972 European Communities Act, which put EU law over and above that of British courts.

The repeal act would instead enshrine all EU law into British law, enabling the UK to take away parts of the legislation at a later stage.

She said there would be no “opt outs” for Scotland or Northern Ireland, where people had voted to stay in the EU, and she again ruled holding out a parliamentary vote on whether to go ahead.

Her speech met with applause from the party faithful.

Clarity welcomed

Donald Tusk, the EU Council leader, Italy, and Germany also welcomed the fact that May’s comments had brought extra “clarity” to the process.

Tusk added, however, that there would be no informal talks, as May had hoped, prior to the Article 50 procedure.

Joseph Muscat, the prime minister of Malta, whose country will hold the EU presidency next March, also warned that EU freedom of movement “cannot be decoupled” from single market access.

David Davies, the British minister in charge of Brexit, on Sunday, told the Tory conference that he wanted to “maintain the freest possible trade” with the EU.

But he indicated that if the UK did not get what it wanted, it should be prepared to abandon EU perks. “The clear message from the referendum is this: We must be able to control immigration”, he said.

Liam Fox, the British trade secretary, also told the Tory conference that the UK could survive on its own.

“Most businesses in the world are outside the European Union. The United States is outside the European Union - it doesn’t seem to be seriously hampered in doing business with Europe because it’s not in the customs union,” he said.

Hard talk

Tim Farron, the leader of the pro-European Liberal party, said the Tory remarks amounted to a declaration that “we are going for a hard Brexit” which meant a “disaster for British jobs, businesses, and our economy”.

British business leaders also said that the March 2017 timeline alone does not give enough clarity on future EU relations.

“The prime minister has removed one big question - on timing - but has accelerated an urgent need for answers on others … Businesses cannot continue to operate in the dark”, Carolyn Fairbairn, the head of the Confederation of British Industry, a lobby group, said.

Charles Grant, the head of the London-based think tank the Centre for European Reform, said: “She [May] is trying to square a circle and none of us know how she plans to do it, but British companies will not be in the single market if she limits immigration and spurns or rejects ECJ [EU court] rulings”.

The Article 50 talks are to last at least two years, but Ken Clarke, a pro-EU Tory MP, predicted it would take eight years to complete Britain's EU exit.

He also predicted that Tory eurosceptics would try to push May toward taking an unrealistic position, saying that they would see as a "betrayal" any deal that fell "short of a tribute in gold being presented to the Queen once a year by the EU".

Brexit Briefing

Post-Brexit party games

The British party conference season has started, with Labour re-electing its leader but staying ambivalent on EU relations.

May: Brexit is 'quiet revolution'

The British prime minister concluded the Tory party conference in the UK by pledging to regain control of immigration and by taking a swipe at pro-EU elites.

Scotland rattles sabre on independence

The Scottish first minister said that a bill for a referendum would be published next week and attacked the British prime minister over her EU exit positions.

Opinion

Europe is giving more aid to Ukraine than you think

'Europeans need to pull their weight in Ukraine. They should pony up more funds.' Such has been the chorus since the start of the war. The problem is the argument isn't borne out by the facts, at least not anymore.

Column

Democracy — is it in crisis or renaissance?

Countries that were once democratising are now moving in the other direction — think of Turkey, Myanmar, Hungary or Tunisia. On the other hand, in autocracies mass mobilisation rarely succeeds in changing political institutions. Think of Belarus, Iran or Algeria.

Latest News

  1. Greece faces possible court over 'prison-like' EU-funded migration centres
  2. How the centre-right can take on hard-right and win big in 2024
  3. Top EU officials show Ukraine solidarity on risky trip
  4. MEPs launch anonymous drop-box for shady lobbying secrets
  5. Hawkish ECB rate-rise 'puts energy transition at risk'
  6. MEPs push for greater powers for workers' councils
  7. How Pavel won big as new Czech president — and why it matters
  8. French official to take on Islamophobia in EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Party of the European LeftJOB ALERT - Seeking a Communications Manager (FT) for our Brussels office!
  2. European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights (EPF)Launch of the EPF Contraception Policy Atlas Europe 2023. 8th February. Register now.
  3. Europan Patent OfficeHydrogen patents for a clean energy future: A global trend analysis of innovation along hydrogen value chains
  4. Forum EuropeConnecting the World from the Skies calls for global cooperation in NTN rollout
  5. EFBWWCouncil issues disappointing position ignoring the threats posed by asbestos
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLarge Nordic youth delegation at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  4. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  6. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us