Set­ting out vi­sion, May presses Brexit plans

Govern­ment blue­print de­fines free trade area for goods • Many Con­ser­va­tives an­gered


LON­DON (Reuters) – British Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May pub­lished her blue­print for re­la­tions with the Euro­pean Union af­ter Brexit on Thurs­day, putting at its core a plan for a free trade area for goods that has an­gered many in her party.

In a long-awaited white pa­per pol­icy doc­u­ment, her govern­ment said its ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion had “evolved” and there was one ma­jor shift - the govern­ment aban­don­ing plans for close trade ties for Bri­tain’s huge fi­nan­cial ser­vices sec­tor.

But in other ar­eas, the govern­ment out­lined its plans to re­tain the clos­est pos­si­ble ties with the bloc in the 98-page doc­u­ment, in­clud­ing par­tic­i­pat­ing in its agen­cies for chem­i­cals, avi­a­tion and medicines in a move aimed at pleas­ing busi­ness.

By push­ing for such close ties, the pa­per may do lit­tle to ease the anger of Brexit sup­port­ers in May’s Con­ser­va­tive Party, who have de­scribed the idea of a com­bined cus­toms ter­ri­tory as a be­trayal of the prime min­is­ter’s pledge for a clean break.

It did not get a ring­ing en­dorse­ment from US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who said in Brus­sels be­fore the white pa­per’s pub­li­ca­tion that he was not sure May’s ap­proach was what Bri­tain voted for in the 2016 ref­er­en­dum.

In re­sponse, May, in Brus­sels with Trump for a NATO sum­mit, said the pro­posal was “de­liv­er­ing on the vote of the British peo­ple to take back con­trol of our money, our laws and our bor­ders.”

Do­minic Raab, ap­pointed Brexit min­is­ter on Mon­day af­ter his pre­de­ces­sor quit in protest at the govern­ment’s ap­proach, said: “Now, it is time for the EU to re­spond in kind.

“We ap­proach these ne­go­ti­a­tions with a spirit of prag­ma­tism, com­pro­mise and, in­deed, friend­ship, I hope, I trust that the EU will en­gage with our pro­pos­als in the same spirit,” he told par­lia­ment, where he was jeered for not giv­ing copies of the doc­u­ment to law­mak­ers.

The EU’s chief ne­go­tia­tor, Michel Barnier, said he would an­a­lyze the pa­per with mem­ber states and the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment and re­peated the bloc’s of­fer for an am­bi­tious free trade agree­ment with “ef­fec­tive co­op­er­a­tion” on is­sues.

“Look­ing for­ward to ne­go­ti­a­tions with the UK next week,” he said on Twit­ter.

With less than nine months be­fore Bri­tain is due to leave the bloc, May has been un­der pres­sure from busi­nesses, EU of­fi­cials and her own law­mak­ers to spell out her ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion to un­block the all-but-stalled Brexit talks.

She thrashed out an agree­ment at her Che­quers coun­try res­i­dence on Fri­day, but that was un­der­mined when two of her lead­ing min­is­ters, and Brexit cam­paign­ers, quit their jobs in protest at her plan to keep close trade ties.

Her team hopes the pub­li­ca­tion of the white pa­per will ease con­cerns among many Brexit sup­port­ers af­ter the res­ig­na­tions of for­mer for­eign sec­re­tary Boris John­son and for­mer Brexit ne­go­tia­tor David Davis. But it might add fuel to a sim­mer­ing re­bel­lion in her Con­ser­va­tive Party.

The white pa­per con­firms May’s de­sire for a “busi­ness-friendly” Brexit, try­ing to pro­tect man­u­fac­tur­ers with com­plex sup­ply chains across the EU which have warned a clean break would have cost British jobs.

But the govern­ment has aban­doned a plan for close ties with the EU for fi­nan­cial ser­vices, in­stead say­ing it would push to im­prove the EU’s le­gal mech­a­nism for ac­cess to coun­tries out­side the bloc known as “equiv­a­lence” where ac­cess is patchy and can be re­voked at short no­tice.

The head of pol­icy at the City of Lon­don, Cather­ine McGuin­ness, de­scribed the white pa­per as a “real blow.”

The white pa­per ac­knowl­edges there will be more bar­ri­ers to Bri­tain’s ac­cess to the EU mar­ket than is the case to­day, but it has pri­or­i­tized main­tain­ing trade ties for goods and de­tails a plan for a fa­cil­i­tated cus­toms ar­range­ment with the EU.

It also spells out Bri­tain’s de­sire to par­tic­i­pate in EU agen­cies that pro­vide au­tho­riza­tion for goods – the Euro­pean Chem­i­cals Agency, the Euro­pean Avi­a­tion Safety Agency and the Euro­pean Medicines Agency.

Bri­tain would ac­cept their rules and con­trib­ute to their costs, the white pa­per said, but rec­og­niz­ing that Bri­tain is no longer a mem­ber state.

While end­ing free­dom of move­ment of peo­ple, Bri­tain will try to en­sure that tourists can travel freely around Europe and will try to make its im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy bet­ter cater for busi­ness needs.

It also pro­poses new bod­ies to help in­ter­pret rules and reg­u­la­tions and to re­solve dis­putes, but says Bri­tain will still pay due re­gard to the Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice.

With the de­tail now pub­lished, May hopes to speed up the talks with the EU be­fore Bri­tain leaves in March next year.

But she may en­counter re­sis­tance at home, where some Brexit cam­paign­ers will seek to har­den her plan by chang­ing her cus­toms leg­is­la­tion in par­lia­ment next week.

Raab said such crit­i­cism was not jus­ti­fied. He de­scribed the white pa­per as “a vi­sion that re­spects the re­sult of the ref­er­en­dum, and de­liv­ers a prin­ci­pled and prac­ti­cal Brexit.

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