Prime Minister will walk away from Brexit talks rather than accept ‘punitive’ deal

Prime Minister Theresa May speaking at Lancaster House in London
Prime Minister Theresa May speaking at Lancaster House in London

Prime Minister Theresa May has warned fellow EU nations that she is ready to walk away from Brexit talks rather than accept a “punitive” deal.

In a speech setting out her 12 key objectives for EU withdrawal, Mrs May announced that Britain will leave the European single market but seek a “bold and ambitious” free trade agreement to allow it to continue trading with its 27 former partners.

Mrs May confirmed she wants to take Britain out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and restore control over immigration.

She also gave her strongest hint yet that the UK could leave the European customs union (CU), stating that she wanted to ensure “frictionless” cross-border trade but had an “open mind” on whether that should be done through associate membership of the CU or a customs agreement.

She announced that MPs and peers will be given a vote on the final deal reached with the EU in talks under Article 50 of the treaties.

She did not make clear whether a vote against any agreement would mean the UK staying in the EU or crashing out without a deal.

Mrs May said she was “confident” that a deal and a new strategic partnership between the UK and the EU can be achieved within the two-year deadline set out in Article 50, insisting that a good deal for Britain will also be good for Europe.

But she warned: “I know there are some voices calling for a punitive deal that punishes Britain and discourages other countries from taking the same path.

“That would be an act of calamitous self-harm for the countries of Europe. And it would not be the act of a friend.

“Britain would not - indeed we could not - accept such an approach.

“And while I am confident that this scenario need never arise - while I am sure a positive agreement can be reached - I am equally clear that no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.”

Mrs May said that her plan would create “a truly global Britain ... a great, global trading nation that is respected around the world and strong, confident and united at home”.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said she appeared to be warning that she was ready to turn the UK into a “low-corporate taxation, bargain basement economy off the shores of Europe” if the EU did not give her everything she wanted.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “Theresa May has confirmed Britain is heading for a hard Brexit.

“She claimed people voted to Leave the single market.

“They didn’t. She has made the choice to do massive damage to the British economy.”