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UK's May commits Tories to hard Brexit stance in manifesto

Thursday, May 18, 2017 - 20:41

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Prime Minister Theresa May took a hardline approach to Brexit, promising British voters she would deliver a clean break from the European Union and warning again that no deal with the bloc was better than a bad one.

[LONDON] Prime Minister Theresa May took a hardline approach to Brexit, promising British voters she would deliver a clean break from the European Union and warning again that no deal with the bloc was better than a bad one.

In publishing her Conservative Party's manifesto on Thursday, Ms May locked a future Tory government into her plans for a hard Brexit: remove Britain from the single market and customs union; "reduce and control" EU migration. She also rejected the continent's proposed negotiating schedule and pledged to stop "making vast annual contributions" to Brussels.

Ms May set out her Brexit goals in black and white, a critically important move given that talks with the EU could begin as soon as the day after the June 8 election. Assuming opinion polls are correct and her Tories are re-elected, the document will form the blueprint that guides the government through Brexit in 2019 and out to 2022.

"The negotiations will undoubtedly be tough, and there will be give and take on both sides, but we continue to believe that no deal is better than a bad deal for the UK," according to the manifesto released in the northern town of Halifax.

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Speaking at the launch, Ms May said "every vote for me and my team is a vote that will strengthen my hand in those Brexit negotiations."

The willingness to walk away from the talks without a deal risks unnerving businesses concerned that failure to agree a pact would expose them to sweeping tariffs and cost them easy access to their biggest market.

For Ms May, the threat sends a message to the EU not to try to punish the British for their decision given how many of the region's exporters rely on the UK

The manifesto also committed a Conservative government to reducing net migration to the "tens of thousands," maintaining as frictionless a border as possible between the two Irelands and protecting British rule of Gibraltar.

On the controversial matter of the Brexit bill, Ms May would "determine a fair settlement of the UK's rights and obligations." It also promised a "deep and special" trading relationship with the EU and accords with other countries based on the idea that there should be "as few barriers to trade and investment as possible."

Nine trade commissioners would be dotted around the globe and the government would aim to replicate all existing EU free trade deals.

The Conservative Party also repeated that Ms May wants to discuss the terms of divorce such as the bill in tandem with a future trade agreement in order to wrap up the talks by the March 2019 deadline. EU officials, by contrast, say they won't debate commerce until differences over the bill, the Irish border and citizens' rights are resolved.

"We want fair, orderly negotiations, minimising disruption and giving as much certainty as possible - so both sides benefit," the manifesto said. "We believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside our withdrawal, reaching agreement on both within the two years allowed."

All Conservative lawmakers - whether they voted to leave the EU or remain at last year's referendum - will be bound by policies contained in the manifesto. This will make it harder for Tories to rebel against key parts of Ms May's strategy.

By focusing on winning back sovereignty from the EU, the manifesto undermines speculation in some quarters that Ms May will soften her ambitions for Brexit if returned to power.

By maintaining an uncompromising line, Tories are hoping to dispel any complacency among their voters. Ms May's party is as many as 20 points ahead of their nearest rival, Labour, in opinion polls. The risk, though, is that her counterparts in the other EU 27 members remember the rhetoric of the campaign trail and hold it against her.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for example, had a warning of her own for Ms May. Britain, she said Wednesday, will be made to pay a price if it limits immigration from the region after 2019.

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