We’re going for a hard Brexit, declares May

Heading out: May said the British people had voted Leave ‘with their eyes open’. © PA

In a keynote speech on Brexit yesterday, the prime minister pledged to create ‘a global Britain’ and take the country out of EU institutions. Is she right to pursue ‘hard Brexit’?

On June 24th the UK awoke to stunning news: the country had voted to leave the EU. As the shock subsided, politicians and commentators asked what leaving would mean.

Months passed. Pressure mounted on Theresa May to outline her priorities for an exit deal. Did she favour a clean break or a limited departure from the political and economic union of 28 countries?

Yesterday the prime minister outlined her negotiating position in her most important speech since taking office. A ‘hard’ or ‘clean’ Brexit, she made clear, was preferable to a ‘soft’ one.

‘We do not seek to adopt a model already enjoyed by other countries,’ she said. Britain wants a ‘new and equal partnership’ with the EU, not ‘anything that leaves us half-in, half-out’.

Most significantly, she said the UK will leave the EU single market — the area where businesses trade freely. Membership requires acceptance of freedom of movement between countries of people from within the EU, but Mrs May’s top priority is controlling immigration into the UK.

Britain will sever other ties too. ‘We will not have truly left the European Union if we are not in control of our own laws,’ May said, promising an end to the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction over Britain. The UK seeks trade deals with nations beyond Europe — so it could not remain a full member of the customs union. Payments to specific programmes may be made, but no more ‘vast’ contributions to the EU budget.

May also said ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ — suggesting she is prepared to walk away from negotiations. And she made a thinly-veiled threat to any EU leaders considering punishing the UK that ‘the basis of Britain’s economic model’ could change.

Her speech prompted both praise and criticism. To Matthew Elliott, who led the Vote Leave campaign, it provided an ‘inspiring vision’. But Tim Farron, leader of the pro-EU Liberal Democrats, called it ‘a presumption that the 51.9% of people who voted to leave meant the most extreme version of Brexit available’.

Brexit means Brexit

This is a chance to create a new, free Britain, say supporters. The UK voted to take charge of its destiny — this should prompt fundamental change. Britain should detach itself from Europe’s failing economies and fractious societies, and control its own laws and immigration policies. Already there are signs that trade deals are in the pipeline.

Foolish, cry opponents. The narrow referendum result was not a mandate for an ideologically driven act of self-harm. Businesses who thrive on the single market will flee; jobs will be lost. And even on immigration, opinion in the EU has moved since Britain’s vote. May should work with European leaders, not confront them.

You Decide

  1. Would you prefer to live in Britain or the EU after Brexit?
  2. Should Britain aim for a clean break with the EU?


  1. Write a list of questions you would like to ask the people working on the Brexit process.
  2. Prepare a short talk explaining how ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit could affect one of the following topics: economy; tax; rights; security; migration; and services (like education and health). Conclude by explaining which you think would be better.

Some People Say...

“No country can survive alone in a globalised world.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I don’t really understand the EU. Is leaving it that big a deal?
The result of Brexit will have an important impact on your future. For example, do you want to live in a country which charges much lower taxes to attract business? Do you want to see higher or lower immigration? These questions will affect the nature of the society around you and your prospects for getting a secure, well-paid job or starting a business when you are older.
But I’m not British.
If you are from another EU country, the terms of a deal could change the amount of trade your country does, affecting your job prospects. And Brexit will have a big impact around the world too. For example, it will affect job opportunities; and politicians in your country are likely to seek lessons from its success or failure.

Word Watch

May has promised to trigger negotiations by the end of March — though wrangling in parliament may delay this.
Other countries
For example, Peter Mandelson, a pro-EU British politician, suggests a similar deal to Norway’s. Norway is not a member of of the EU but belongs to the European Economic Area, which gives access to the single market for goods, services, capital and people under EU rules.
Businesses trade in the market without having to pay tariffs as they cross national borders.
European Court of Justice
The court which rules on EU law.
Customs union
A group of countries that have agreed to charge the same import duties on goods entering the union.
The UK could drastically lower its tax rates and deregulate its industries to compete with the EU for business.
May points to interest in trade deals from countries including China, Brazil and Australia; she also notes comments from President-elect Trump that the UK is ‘not at the back of the queue, but the front of the line’ for a US deal.
17.4 million people voted Leave; 16.1 million Remain.


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