Theresa May defends 'cherry-picking' a Brexit deal in Mansion House speech

2 March 2018, 15:45

Theresa May has used a landmark speech on Brexit to hit back at the EU's refusal to offer Britain a bespoke deal after it leaves the bloc.

She stood firm in calling for a different relationship than Canada, Norway and Turkey have with the EU, declaring: "If this is cherry picking, then every trade agreement is cherry picking."

The Prime Minister lampooned the favoured phrase of Brussels' chief negotiator Michel Barnier in a bid to flesh out her Brexit vision.

She repeated a "hard fact" that Britain would leave the EU customs union and single market.

"Life is going to be different," she said. "In certain ways, our right to each other's markets is going to be different to what it is now."

But Mrs May called for "reciprocal binding commitments" on some policy areas and voiced hopes the UK would still stay signed up to a number of EU agencies.

That includes the European Medicines Agency, which is relocating its headquarters from London to Amsterdam because of Brexit.

The PM also claimed negotiators were "close to an agreement" on the terms of an implementation period, despite Mr Barnier warning this week that it was still not a given.

And she struck a conciliatory tone by saying neither side would get "exactly what we want" from the talks, and signalling Britain would not fight losing EU passporting rights.

On the contentious issue of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), Mrs May said its jurisdiction in Britain "must end".

She called for a third party court to be set up that would resolve trade disputes, instead.

Despite her efforts to quell fears of a hard border in Ireland, she accidentally began a sentence: "To achieve a hard border-."

She then corrected herself: "To avoid a hard border…"

Mrs May backed "new technology" to help keep the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic as 'soft' as possible.

The speech was well received by her confidence and supply partners the DUP, with the party's leader Arlene Foster "particularly welcoming" a commitment to "strengthen" the UK union.

The EU's chief negotiator also "welcomed" Mrs May's words.

Michel Barnier said: "Clarity about the UK leaving the single market and customs union and recognition of trade-offs will inform EU Council guidelines re: a future free trade agreement."

Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson posed with thumbs up and a copy of the speech, having been stranded in Hungary due to the snow.

But not everyone in Europe was content.

Manfred Weber, a key ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and chair of the biggest political group in the European Parliament, which will have to sign off the final deal, said the speech made him "even more concerned".

"I don't see how we could reach an agreement on Brexit if the UK government continues to bury its head in the sand like this," he said.

Labour's shadow Northern Ireland secretary, Owen Smith, also claimed there was "nothing new" on preventing a hard border.

Mrs May's speech was meant to conclude a mini-series by ministers.

However another one, by Chancellor Philip Hammond on hopes for a financial services deal, was announced for next week.