Brexit: Prime Minister’s speech on the UK’s negotiating objectives

Brexit - Union Jack and EU Flags overlaid over Houses of Parliament Print publication


On 17 January 2017, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, gave her long awaited speech regarding Brexit and the UK’s negotiating objectives. The full text of the Prime Minister’s speech is available here.

The speech provided details of 12 policy aspirations. The following points are worth drawing attention to:

  • The UK to leave the single market: The UK will not seek to be a member of the single market (as distinct from single market access) following departure from the EU. The Prime Minister said “I want to make clear that what I am proposing cannot mean membership of the single market.”
  • The desire for a Free Trade Agreement with the EU: The UK will seek to agree a free trade agreement with the EU. This may “take in elements of current single market arrangements” in certain areas, such as freedom to provide financial services across national borders where it “makes no sense to start again from scratch when Britain and the remaining Member States have adhered to the same rules for many years.”
  • Rejection of the EU Customs Union: The Prime Minister said that the UK wishes to negotiate trade deals with non-EU countries post-Brexit. Full membership of the EU customs union prevents the UK from negotiating its own trade deals because this lies within the exclusive competence of the EU. On that basis, the Prime Minister does not want the UK to be bound by the common commercial policy and the common external tariff. However, the Prime Minister announced that she wanted the UK to have a customs agreement with the EU. The Prime Minister stated that this could come in the form of a completely new customs agreement, or the UK becoming an associate member of the customs union in some way, or retain some parts of it.
  • Rejection of the European Court of Justice: The Prime Minister stated that the European Court of Justice would not have jurisdiction over the British court system post-Brexit.
  • The desire for an orderly phased process of implementation: The UK will seek a “phased process of implementation” and not “unlimited transitional status” after the conclusion of the two year process initiated by the triggering of the Article 50 The aim of this process will be to allow businesses to plan and prepare for any new arrangements agreed between the UK and the EU. The Prime Minister suggested that this process might apply to, amongst other things, the future legal and regulatory framework for financial services.
  • Parliamentary approval: The Prime Minister declared that the Government will put the final deal that is agreed between the UK and the EU to a vote in both Houses of Parliament, before it comes into force.
  • An end to the free movement of EU citizens in the UK: One of the main freedoms of the single market is the free movement of EU citizens to stay and work in another EU Member State. A key aim of the Government is to restrict the uncapped immigration of EU citizens in the UK. The UK has now committed itself to a position where it must be able to place limitations on free movement of EU citizens in the UK.
  • EU citizens living in the UK: It was widely believed before the Prime Minister’s speech that the UK was refusing to guarantee the ability of EU citizens to continue to work and live in the UK and that this guarantee would only be forthcoming if reciprocal rights were granted to UK citizens living in EU Members States at the end of the negotiations. It seems from the text of the Prime Minister’s speech that the UK is prepared to give this assurance right away but that several EU Member States (not named) are currently refusing to make a reciprocal concession in favour of UK citizens in their countries.
  • Existing UK law will be implemented into UK law: The Prime Minister confirmed that the existing body of EU law which has been implemented into UK law will remain part of UK law post-Brexit.
  • No deal rather than a bad deal: The Prime Minister said that the UK will leave the EU without an exit deal, if no good deal is on offer.