Theresa May tells EU to 'get on with it' as she warns no-deal Brexit would be bad for Britain
Theresa May has called on the European Union to "get on with" negotiating a Brexit deal - as she admitted that failing to reach an agreement would be bad for the UK.
The Prime Minister - who famously previously declared that "no deal is better than a bad deal" - said being forced to operate on World Trade Organisation terms "would mean a significant reduction in our access to each other’s markets".
In another message to hardline Brexiteers in her own party, she said that while "no-one will get everything they want" from the talks, she will not threaten to walk away from the negotiating table in an attempt to force the EU's hand.
But she also rejected gloomy predictions by Remainers by insisting that regardless of the outcome of her negotiations, the UK's future was "bright" outside the EU.
Addressing more than 100 ambassadors, businesspeople and journalists at Mansion House in London, Mrs May said: "My message to our friends in Europe is clear. We know what we want. We understand your principles. We have a shared interest in getting this right. So let’s get on with it."
Warning Brussels that the UK will not accept an "off the shelf" Brexit deal, she insisted that Britain can retain many of the benefits of EU membership while also having the freedom to strike out on its own.
"The fact is that every free trade agreement has varying market access depending on the respective interests of the countries involved," she said. "If this is cherry-picking, then every trade arrangement is cherry-picking.
"Moreover, with all its neighbours the EU has varying levels of access to the single market, depending on the obligations those neighbours are willing to undertake.
"What would be cherry-picking would be if we were to seek a deal where our rights and obligations were not held in balance. And I have been categorically clear that is not what we are going to do."
Mrs May again stressed that Britain did not want a return to a hard Irish border, and said that could be avoided by the UK and EU maintaining virtually identical customs arrangements.
But she also slapped down Conservative colleagues - including Brexit Secretary David Davis - who have said that any infrastructure erected between Northern Ireland and the Republic would be the EU's responsibility.
The Prime Minister said: "We have been clear all along that we don’t want to go back to a hard border in Ireland. We have ruled out any physical infrastructure at the border, or any related checks and controls.
"But it is not good enough to say, ‘We won’t introduce a hard border; if the EU forces Ireland to do it, that’s down to them’. We chose to leave; we have a responsibility to help find a solution. But we can’t do it on our own. It is for all of us to work together."
She added: "A fundamental principle in our negotiating strategy is that trade at the UK-EU border should be as frictionless as possible with no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
"We believe this can be achieved via a commitment to ensure that the relevant UK regulatory standards remain at least as high as the EU’s and a customs arrangement.
"We recognise this would constrain our ability to lower regulatory standards for industrial goods. But in practice we are unlikely to want to reduce our standards: not least because the British public would rightly punish any government that did so at the ballot box."
On the type of trade deal she wants to reach with the EU, Mrs May again insisted Britain should be able to strike a bespoke deal.
"The Norway model, where we would stay in the single market, would mean having to implement new EU legislation automatically and in its entirety – and would also mean continued free movement," she said.
"Others have suggested we negotiate a free trade agreement similar to that which Canada has recently negotiated with the EU - or trade on World Trade Organisation terms. But these options would mean a significant reduction in our access to each other’s markets compared to that which we currently enjoy.
"And this would mean customs and regulatory checks at the border that would damage the integrated supply chains that our industries depend on and be inconsistent with the commitments that both we and the EU have made in respect of Northern Ireland."
UPS AND DOWNS
Despite the difficulties, Mrs May said Brexit can deliver "an optimistic and confident future which can unite us all".
"I am in no doubt that whatever agreement we reach with the EU, our future is bright," she said. "The stability and continuity of centuries of self-government, our commitment to freedom under the rule of law, our belief in enterprise and innovation, but above all, the talent and genius of all our people – and especially our young people – are the seeds of our success in the future, as they have been the guarantors of our success in the past."
She added: "There will be ups and downs in the months ahead. As in any negotiation, no-one will get everything they want. We will not be buffeted by the demands to talk tough or threaten a walk out.
"Just as we will not accept the counsels of despair that this simply cannot be done. We will move forward by calm, patient discussion of each other’s positions.
"It is my responsibility as Prime Minister to provide that leadership for our country at this crucial time. By following the course I have set out today, I am confident we will get there and deliver the right outcome for Britain and the EU."