LONDON: The U.K.’s aim of agreeing a comprehensive trade deal with the EU post Brexit does not amount to “cherry picking,” Theresa May said Friday, during a speech in which she made clear that neither side will get all it wants from the negotiations.
In a highly anticipated speech at Mansion House in the City of London, the U.K. prime minister said that she wanted to face up to “hard facts,” admitting that “in certain ways our access to each other’s market will be less than they are now” and that the European Court of Justice would continue to have an indirect impact of U.K. law.
In a marked shift in tone she said there was “no escaping the complexity of the task ahead of us” and that uncertainty would be “inherent” to the months ahead.
However, she sharply criticized the EU’s characterization of her approach to Brexit as “cherry-picking,” insisting that every free trade agreement in the world involved varying levels of market access in different economic sectors.
“If this is cherry-picking then every free trade agreement is cherry-picking,” she said. “What would be cherry picking would be to seek a deal where our rights and obligations were not held in balance.”
On the key issue of future customs arrangement with the EU and the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, May ruled out a customs union between the U.K. and the EU saying that such an arrangement would restrict the country’s ability to set tariff rates in trade deals with non-EU countries.
She fell back on two proposals for a future customs arrangement that were set out in a position paper published by the government in August, but have been largely ignored by Brussels. On the Irish border, she said that technological solutions, trusted trader schemes and other measures could avoid a hard border.
The lack of new proposals on either point is likely to disappoint Dublin and Brussels. The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said that border checks on the island of Ireland are “unavoidable” outside of the single market and the customs union.