Prime Minister Theresa May insisted on Sunday that Britain would have “control over our borders” after Brexit, suggesting she would be prepared to quit Europe’s trading zone to achieve it.
“The referendum vote was a vote for us to… bring control into our immigration system. I’m clear that is part of what we need to deliver,” she told Sky News in an interview. “We will be able to have control over our borders, of our laws.”
German leader Angela Merkel has warned Britain will not be able to remain in the E.U.’s single market while “cherry picking” the terms—including over the free movement of labor.
May on Sunday appeared to suggest she would be willing to quit the trade zone. “Often people talk in terms of, somehow we’re leaving the E.U. but we still want to keep bits of membership of the E.U.,” she said. “We’re leaving, we’re coming out, we’re not going to be a member of the E.U. any longer.”
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Sunday said the prospect of a second independence referendum for her nation was not mere bluster if Britain left the single market. “They will be making a big mistake if they think I am in any way bluffing,” she told BBC’s Andrew Marr show.
The vote would “give Scotland the opportunity to decide whether it wants to be driven off a hard Brexit cliff by right-wing Tory Brexiteers or whether it wants to take control of its own future,” she added.
Experts say a so-called “hard Brexit” would mean Britain withdrawing entirely from Europe’s single market and negotiating new trade arrangements in order to impose strict immigration controls.
May has come under increasing pressure to reveal more detailed plans about her Brexit strategy, and promised to do so during a series of speeches in “the coming weeks.”
“When people voted in the referendum on the 23rd of June, they voted to leave the European Union, but they also voted for change and this year, 2017, is the year in which we start to make that happen,” she told Sky News.
The prime minister, who took power after David Cameron resigned in the wake of the Brexit vote, stressed that Britain could still secure favorable access for businesses trading within the E.U., although critics warn that negotiations will be fraught and complex. “We will be working to get the best possible deal in the trading relationship with the E.U.,” May said.
She also rejected last week’s parting shot delivered by Ivan Rogers, Britain’s outgoing top E.U. ambassador, that the government does not have a clear plan. May said her “thinking on this isn’t muddled at all” and accused the previous administration of not preparing a strategy in case of Brexit.
May has promised to activate Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, triggering a two-year period in which Britain will negotiate its departure from the E.U., by the end of March. If no deal is reached, Britain will automatically leave the E.U.’s institutions, with reciprocal tariffs likely placed on businesses in the U.K. and the E.U.
May is due to visit incoming U.S. president Donald Trump in the spring, telling Sky News she was “optimistic and positive” about the future relationship between the two nations. She also branded Trump’s widely publicized obscene comments about women “unacceptable” but said he had apologized for them.