British Prime Minister Theresa May will firmly set the country up for a complete break with the European Union when she delivers a long-awaited speech on Brexit on Tuesday that will offer a 12-point plan for leaving the EU.
“We seek a new and equal partnership, between an independent, self-governing, global Britain and our friends and allies in the EU,” Ms. May will say in the speech, according to advance extracts released by her office to local media. “Not partial membership of the European Union, associate membership of the European Union, or anything that leaves us half-in, half-out. We do not seek to adopt a model already enjoyed by other countries. We do not seek to hold on to bits of membership as we leave.”
The plan will include withdrawal from the EU single market, which allows for the free movement of goods, services and people among member states. Ms. May has made it clear that Britain wants to take back control over immigration and end oversight of British laws by the European Court of Justice, both hallmarks of the single market.
Businesses in Britain have been concerned about the country abruptly leaving the EU without any access to the single market or some kind of transitional deal. Financial firms in particular are worried because so-called passport provisions could be lost. Those provisions mean firms can set up in London and offer services across the EU without having to be registered in each country.
Ms. May is also expected to say that Britain will end its membership in the EU customs union, which involves the free trade of goods among member countries so long as they each apply the same tariffs to non-member countries. Turkey, Andorra and San Marino belong to the customs union but are not part of the single market. Norway belongs to the single market, but not the customs union.
“We will continue to be reliable partners, willing allies and close friends. We want to buy your goods, sell you ours, trade with you as freely as possible, and work with one another to make sure we are all safer, more secure and more prosperous through continued friendship,” Ms. May will say.
Ms. May’s “hard Brexit” approach has rattled currency markets. The British pound fell as much as 1.6 per cent on Monday to a low of $1.19 to the U.S. dollar, the lowest level since October. The currency recovered to end trading down about 1.1 per cent.
“We now have to assume May will prioritize immigration controls and the price to pay will be to exit the single market,” said a report from Neil Wilson, senior market analyst at ETX Capital. “That could send the pound a lot lower still, perhaps toward $1.10 in the coming weeks.”
There are other issues looming for Ms. May that could also impact her Brexit plans. The country’s Supreme Court will rule soon on whether the Prime Minister can trigger the EU exit mechanism, known as Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, on her own or if it requires approval of Parliament.
Legal experts expect the court to rule that Ms. May needs Parliament’s approval, handing power to members of Parliament who largely oppose Brexit.
Ms. May planned to trigger Article 50 by the end of March, but that timetable could be thrown into disarray.
The court could also rule that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have a role to play in the Brexit process. However, the government of Northern Ireland has collapsed, meaning it cannot participate in any Brexit discussions until after elections on March 2 or longer because of renewed friction among political parties in the province.
Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London, said that Ms. May was well advised to use her speech to bring clarity about Britain’s intentions – even if many people won’t like the message.
“I think ruling out membership of the single market … is in some ways the clarity people are looking for,” Prof. Bale said. “Yet, were she to do that, it would be a massive blow to many sectors of the economy. But if that’s really what she’s going to do, and it’s not simply a negotiating stance on her part, it might be better to do it sooner rather than later.”
Ms. May will also use her speech to appeal for reconciliation between the 48 per cent of British voters who wanted to stay in the EU and the pro-Brexit 52 per cent. But the gap between “remainers” and “leavers” appears as wide as ever.
In London’s financial district, the City, many worry about the future of their global businesses and international work force once Britain is out of the EU fold.
“I feel like we should be heading toward more world co-operation generally speaking and this feels like a very retrograde step,” recruitment-firm employee Christopher Devine said.
A few kilometres to the east in working-class Romford, where a large majority voted to leave, many say Brexit can’t come soon enough.
“I think it could happen a little bit quicker,” said Tony Geary, who sells clothes in Romford market. “Theresa May now needs to sort of get her finger on the button and make sure everything is in place so by the end of this financial year she is in a position to make things happen.”