Theresa May tries to reassure EU as UK seeks trade pacts alone
UK Prime Minister Theresa May signaled on Friday said Britain is paving the way for trade talks with other countries well before it leaves the European Union (EU) but sought to reassure partners that this would not undermine the bloc’s trade aims.
Facing EU leaders for the first time since she came to power, May said she wants a smooth and cooperative relationship with her partners as the country heads out the exit door, probably in 2019.
Her conciliatory tone was in sharp contrast to the sometimes bitter rhetoric sparked by Britain’s departure – the first time an EU member has ever left the bloc – including threats of a “hard exit” that would see the country stranded outside Europe’s massive single market if it seeks to restrict the entry of EU migrants. “I’ve been clear that the UK is discussing our future trade relationship with third countries,” May said at the end of a two-day summit in Brussels. “This will not undermine the EU’s trade agenda. It is not in competition with it.”
May said she wants “a mature, cooperative relationship with our European partners.” She called for “give and take” and a willingness to approach the thorny divorce proceedings “in a constructive spirit.”
So far, her EU partners are standing firm. Several reaffirmed that the EU’s four cherished freedoms - the free movement of goods, capital, services and people - are indivisible, and that the UK cannot pick the choicest morsels.
Friday’s summit talks were overshadowed by a major negotiating logjam as the small French-speaking region of Wallonia refused to endorse a new trade pact with Canada, leaving the entire 28-nation EU - the world’s biggest trading bloc in limbo.
May gave support to the negotiating efforts, even though her country will soon be leaving, but said Britain will be seeking to develop an entirely new trade relationship with Europe; not one that resembles any other which the EU has with the outside world.