A global Britain: objectives for Brexit negotiations

| By TMA World

On January 17th, 2017, Theresa May, British Prime Minister, set out a 12-point plan for leaving the European Union (EU).  The plan aims to clear up some of the uncertainties following the referendum vote for Britain to leave the Union, by answering the question: What kind of country do we want to be?  The plan has been criticized for not providing enough detail, but the stated objectives confirm that “Brexit means Brexit”; Britain will not seek a half-in, half-out agreement.  May has said she will trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – which begins the two-year process for the U.K.’s departure – by the end of March, 2017, although legal challenges and the collapse of the power-sharing government in N. Ireland could delay matters.


1. Provide certainty about the process of leaving the EU – the final deal agreed to by the UK and the EU will be put to a vote in both Houses of Parliament. 

2. Control our own laws.  Leaving the EU will mean that laws governing Britain will be made in Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Belfast.  Britain will bring to an end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

3. Strengthen the Union between the four nations of the United Kingdom.  The British government will work to ensure that as powers are repatriated back to Britain – the right powers are passed to the devolved administrations.

4. Maintain the Common Travel Area with the Republic of Ireland while protecting the integrity of the U.K.’s immigration system.

5. Control of immigration coming from the EU.  Britain would seek to attract the best talent from the EU and elsewhere, but impose tight controls overall.  Staying in the EU single market would be incompatible with migration control (free movement of labor is a pillar of EU policy).

6. Protecting the rights of EU nationals currently in Britain, and British nationals in the EU.

7. Protect worker’s rights.  A large proportion of worker’s rights in the UK come from European Law.

8. Free trade with European markets through a new, comprehensive free-trade agreement based on the one recently agreed between Canada and the EU: May wants to leave the single market and the customs union (although strike a separate deal as an associate agreement with the customs union).

9. New trade agreements with other countries around the world to enable Britain once again to be a major global trader.

10. The best place for science and innovation.  May suggests she welcomes agreements to collaborate with Europe on major science, research, and technology initiatives, e.g. space exploration, clean energy, and medical technology.

11. Co-operation in the fight against crime and terrorism because no country can do this alone.

12. A smooth, orderly Brexit, i.e. a phased process of implementation. 

The above statements are objectives, not outcomes.  The negotiations are likely to be very difficult as the EU fights for its very survival.  It is a strong likelihood that Britain’s departure could trigger an exit domino effect among other EU nations.  Theresa May says that the UK could be the EU’s ‘best friend’, if Britain gets what it wants.  If it doesn’t, she says she is prepared to walk away – “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.”  Her tough talk went further when she said that any EU attempt to inflict a punitive outcome on the UK for its decision would be an “act of calamitous self-harm.”  How?  She would slash taxes to attract companies from around the world, thereby drawing them away from EU countries.

What do some members of the European press think of the 12-point plan?

Germany’s Die Welt – “Prime Minister Theresa May leads Great Britain into isolation,” and talks of “Little Britain.”

The Irish Independent is skeptical she can secure an open border between N. Ireland and the Republic.  The Examiner warns of the threat to Irish jobs from the break-up.

The Dutch paper NRC warned that “Economic damage looms for the Netherlands with May’s hard line.”  The youth-oriented NRC morning edition posed the question, “Little England or global Britain?”

The left-oriented Liberation in France puts the plan in the context of a future Europe – “The start or the chaos . . . London opts for a hard Brexit, Trump bets on its breakup and Putin still aggressive.  The EU finds itself attacked on all fronts without seeing it coming.  What could force it to finally reinvent itself?”

Denmark’s De Morgen – “experts say hard Brexit could threaten the future of the UK.”

Spain’s ABC sees May’s words as “threat of commercial war.”

China looks to take the lead on globalization at Davos.  Britain and the USA look to roll back time.  Is this the start of an exciting brave world or the opening of a Pandora’s box that will haunt us for decades to come?   

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