Thank you for contacting me about the UK's withdrawal from the EU.
The British people voted in a free and fair referendum to leave the EU. Turnout was larger than at any election since 1992 and no Prime Minister or party in British history has ever received as many votes as the vote to leave did. The Government has a duty to deliver the referendum result and it will do so in the national interest.
The UK's vote to leave the EU was in no way a rejection of European values. The UK's dedication to ensuring the continued prosperity of the European people remains resolute and it is unconditionally committed to maintaining the security of the continent. The UK may be leaving the EU but it is not leaving Europe. The Government will always work with our international partners to defend democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
The Government has now reached agreement with the European Commission on citizens' rights, Northern Ireland and the financial settlement. The European Council has also said that sufficient progress has been made to move on to the second phase of the negotiations on the UK and the EU's future relationship. I expect the implementation period to last around two years. During this time access to one another's markets should continue on current terms. EU citizens will continue to come to the UK to live and work but will need to register. Elements of our future partnership, could of course, be brought in before the end of this period.
I want a long-term partnership with the EU that will be of mutual benefit to all our people but a future trade agreement will take time to agree and ratify. It can also only be concluded after the UK has left the EU. This is why an implementation period is necessary. It would create instability and uncertainty if there were one set of changes after the UK left the EU and another of set after a trade agreement was reached. People and businesses should only need to adjust once to the changes.
Britain is leaving the EU, but it will continue to play a full and active role inside the EU until it leaves. The UK has relinquished the rotating Presidency of the Council, which was scheduled for the second half of this year, because the Government is focusing on the negotiations to leave the EU.
On the 2 February 2017, the Government released a white paper entitled 'The United Kingdom's exit from and new partnership with the European Union'. This paper built on the 12 principles set out in Prime Minister Theresa May's speech on 17 January 2017 at Lancaster House. It sets out a comprehensive plan for how the UK will forge a strong new partnership with the EU and underpins the UK's withdrawal negotiations. The principles remain unchanged following the Prime Minister's speech on 22 September 2017 in Florence. The principles are set out in summary below and in more detail on the following pages.
In order to provide legal certainty over our exit from the EU, I can confirm that the Repeal Bill will remove the European Communities Act 1972 from the statute book and convert all EU law into UK law. This will mean the immediate conversion of EU law into domestic law on the day of the UK's departure from the EU. It will also mean that the UK has a functioning statute book when it leaves the EU. Parliament will be free to keep, amend or repeal any law as it sees fit. All workers' rights will continue to apply after we leave the EU as they did before.
The European Communities Act 1972 requires UK courts to follow rulings of the European Court of Justice. Some EU law, such as Regulations, can apply without the need for specific domestic implementing legislation. Other EU law, such as Directives, need to be implemented in UK laws though domestic legislation. The European Communities Act provides the legal powers necessary for this to happen.
The European Court of Human Rights is entirely separate from the European Union, and leaving the EU will not impact our membership of the ECHR.
I am encouraged that the Government is continuing to build a national consensus around our negotiating position by engaging with as many organisations, companies and stakeholders as possible. The Department for Exiting the EU has also looked in details at the impact of leaving the EU in over 50 sectors, a list of which will be published in due course. Parliament will play an important role in scrutinising new legislation. The final withdrawal deal will be put to a vote in the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
Regaining the sovereignty of Parliament is a fundamental principle of the UK's withdrawal from the EU. I am glad that once the UK has left the EU, the British people will have more control over the decisions that affect their daily lives.
The Government will seek new approaches to dispute resolution and interpretation in trade with the EU. These arrangements will respect UK sovereignty, protect the role of UK courts and maximise legal certainty for British stakeholders. The European Court of Justice will not be the final arbiter in any disputes. I do not believe that it would be right for the court of one party to have jurisdiction over that of the other party.
The rights of EU citizens' will be upheld by implementing the agreement into UK law, instead of continued EU law enforced by the EU courts, as the EU originally asked for. The compulsory jurisdiction of the ECJ will end but UK courts will, of course, be able to ask the ECJ for its legal view on the law on citizens' rights if a point of law has not arisen before. At any rate, UK courts will make the final decision not the ECJ.
The Government is working with the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to deliver an outcome that works for the whole of the UK. The Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations), chaired by the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davis, is also providing the leaders of the Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Ireland governments with the opportunity to help shape the UK's exit from the EU. I welcome this approach, but it is important to understand that although the devolved administrations and other stakeholders will be consulted, the UK will negotiate and leave the EU as one country.
I am encouraged by the steps that the Government is taking to ensure that any decisions currently taken by the devolved administrations remain in place after the UK leaves the EU. After leaving the EU, legislation on devolution settlements will be set here in the UK by democratically elected representatives and the role of Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly will be strengthened.
I share the Government's view that maintaining our strong and historic ties with Ireland is a priority. The UK and Irish economies are deeply integrated and both the UK and the EU have committed to protecting the Belfast Agreement. In recognition of the Belfast Agreement, the people of Northern Ireland will still be able to identify themselves as British, Irish or both. They will continue to be able to hold the citizenship that they choose to hold. The EU and the UK have already agreed that the Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland, which has existed since 1925, will be maintained.
The Government and the EU have said explicitly that there will not be any physical border infrastructure or a hard border. This will be avoided by the future trading relationship between the UK and the EU that will be discussed in phase 2 of the negotiations. If agreement is not reached the Government will seek specific solutions for the Northern Irish border.
If either of these outcomes is not achieved the UK will maintain full alignment with the rules that support north-south cooperation under the Belfast Agreement. This means sharing the same policy goals even if they are achieved by different means. I am confident, however, that it will not come to this.
I welcome the contribution that migrants have brought and will continue to bring to our economy and society. A sovereign nation is, however, able to control the numbers of people coming to the country. Leaving the EU will mean that the free movement directive will no longer apply and the migration of EU nationals will be subject to UK law. During the implementation period, EU citizens will continue to be able to live and work in the UK but they will need to register. The implementation period is expected to last for around two years and this will provide the time necessary to set up the new border control systems. After leaving the EU, the United Kingdom will be able to decide its own immigration policy.
My colleagues in Government have assured me that while they will create an immigration system that allows greater control over numbers, the best and brightest from around the world will always be welcome. This includes welcoming students and academics to our world-class universities.
At every step of these negotiations I will work with my colleagues in Government to ensure the best possible outcome for the British people. I do not believe that there is any mandate for a deal that does not allow us to control the number of people coming here from Europe.
The UK and the EU have secured reciprocal rights for British citizens in the EU and EU citizens living in the UK. The rights of EU citizens in the UK will be upheld by UK law in the Withdrawal and Implementation Bill rather than by the ECJ as initially requested by the EU.
Families who have built their lives in the UK or the EU will be able to stay together. Spouses, children and elderly parents of those protected by the agreement and who live in a different country will be able to reunite as a family at any point in the future. This will not, however, apply to future spouses or other relatives.
A new settled status scheme will provide a smooth and transparent process to apply for settled status. Certainty will also be provided about healthcare, pensions and other benefits. EU citizens who have paid into the UK system and UK nationals who have paid into the system of an EU Member State will be able to benefit from what they have put in and continue to benefit from existing coordination rules for future contributions. It has been agreed that reciprocal healthcare rights will also be protected so that those receiving healthcare now will continue to be able to do so. Professional qualifications will also be mutually recognised.
EU citizenship is additional to national citizenship. It does not replace national citizenship and can only be obtained by holding the nationality of a member state of the EU. Citizenship of the EU confers certain rights. This includes the freedom to live freely in other EU countries, the right to vote in local elections and the right to petition the European Parliament.
The right to Francovich damages is linked to EU membership. The Government considers that this will no longer be relevant after we leave. After exit, under UK law it will still be possible for individuals to receive damages or compensation for any losses caused by breach of the law.
Workers' rights will be fully protected when the UK leaves the EU. The acquis communautaire, the entire body of EU law which includes the case law of the ECJ until we leave, will be converted into UK law. The European Court of Human Rights is also entirely separate from the EU and leaving the EU will not impact our membership of the ECHR. I also want to emphasise that the UK often provides stronger rights than the minimum stipulated by the EU. Employees in the UK enjoy more statutory annual leave, more paid maternity leave and more flexibility around shared parental leave than that required by the EU.
The Government is also committed to ensuring a fair National Living Wage with full compliance from employers and enabling the voices of workers to be heard on the boards of publicly-listed companies for the first time.
I want the best possible trade agreement possible between the UK and EU. The Prime Minister will not be pursuing a deal that retains membership of the single market but will instead seek to achieve a bold and ambitious new free trade agreement. This agreement will be mutually beneficial to both parties.
I recognise that by leaving the EU not everything in our trade relationship will stay the same. We will not be able to have all of the benefits of the single market with none of the obligations. In seeking a new economic partnership, however, the UK is starting from a position of strength. We are the EU's largest trading partner and, unlike external partners seeking a trade deal, we start trade discussions with the same product standards and the same core beliefs in consumer protection, workers' rights and fair competition. Negotiations will be about how we agree to changes not about how we bring two divergent systems together. Since we begin discussions from the same starting point, I also do not see any need to impose tariffs where we have none now.
My colleagues in Government are not looking for an off the shelf deal such as a 'hard' or 'soft' Brexit or a Norwegian, Canada or Swiss model. The new model the will reflect the UK's unique, existing trading relationships with EU member states. It will be an agreement between an independent, sovereign United Kingdom and the European Union. I want that relationship to reflect the mature, cooperative relationship that close friends and allies enjoy.
The European Economic Area (EEA) comprises all 28 EU Member States and three of the four European Free Trade Association (EFTA) States: Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Switzerland is not part of the EEA but is a member of EFTA.
Membership is based on the European Economic Area Agreement, which is a treaty between the EU Member States and the EFTA States. When leaves the UK the EU, it would no longer be a member of the EEA. The UK would have to re-join EFTA and then apply to join the EEA.
EEA membership would mean that the UK would have to adopt new EU rules automatically and in their entirety. This would not provide the democratic control over decisions that the British people voted for in the referendum.
The free movement of goods operates on the principle of mutual recognition, harmonisation of product rules and voluntary standards. Mutual recognition means that goods marketed in one member state can be sold in all member states. The UK will seek to avoid delays and friction at the border in a future trade deal.
The UK's agriculture, food and fisheries sectors are heavily influenced by EU laws, through frameworks such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Common Fisheries Policy. Leaving the EU will provide Britain with the freedom to deliver its vision for a world-leading food and farming industry, as well as a sustainable seafood sector for farmers and consumers.
In our new strategic partnership, we will be aiming for the freest possible trade in services between the UK and EU member states. This will ensure that businesses and citizens have certainty; protection will be sought through an effective system of judicial cooperation. This is particularly desirable in highly integrated sectors such as financial services where there is a legitimate interest in mutual cooperation that reflects the interconnectedness of markets. Passporting, under which member states provide financial services under common rules, benefits over 5,000 UK firms in the EU and 8,000 European firms in the UK.
The UK will seek to work with the energy sector across Europe to ensure plans for further electricity interconnections will go ahead. While we will be leaving the Euratom Treaty, the legal framework for nuclear power in the EU, I am assured that this will not affect our aim of maintaining close and effective arrangements for nuclear cooperation, safeguards and trade with European partners.
As we exit the EU, it will also be a priority to ensure that UK telecoms companies can continue to trade as freely and competitively as possible throughout Europe and vice versa. The Government will also discuss with member states our future status and arrangements with agencies such as the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
On leaving the EU, the UK will not be bound by the EU Customs Union, the Common External Tariff or participate in the Common Commercial Policy. In its place, the Government will seek a new customs arrangement which will enable us to make the most of trade with others and for trade to continue to be frictionless between the UK and the EU. The Government is particularly committed to minimising administrative burdens between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Once we have left the EU, decisions on how taxpayers' money will be spent will be made in the UK. As we will no longer be members of the single market, we will not be required to make vast contributions to the EU budget every year.
The gross contribution of the UK to the EU before application of the rebate was estimated at £16.9 billion for 2016/17. A rebate of £4.8 billion and public sector receipts of £4 billion mean that the net UK contribution to the EU budget was around £8.1 billion. This is the gross contribution (£16.9 billion) minus the rebate and EU spending in the UK (a total of £8.8 billion).
On leaving the EU, the UK will have the opportunity to make free trade agreements with countries across the world. An independent trade policy gives us the opportunity to make deals better suited to the UK and to make quicker progress with new partners and in growing markets.
The Department for International Trade is leading the UK's ambitions for deepening trade and investment relations with the wider world. While we cannot agree new trade deals until after we have left the EU, we are able to prepare the ground. Discussions are in place with a number of countries, including existing EU trade partners.
Our WTO membership will form the bedrock on which we build our future trade relationships. The UK's WTO commitments are currently represented by the EU and our aim is to establish our schedules in a way that replicates as far as possible our current position as an EU member state.
I welcome that the Government will seek agreements to continue to collaborate with European partners on major science, research, and technology initiatives. This includes building on the positions of our world-leading universities, investing heavily in innovation and continuing to attract the world's best in science and technology. This pledge was backed in the Autumn Statement and further reinforced in the Industrial Strategy.
I am reassured that the Government is working closely with EU sector representatives to ensure a smooth transition for future arrangements. This includes the HM Treasury guaranteeing EU research funding for the duration of projects and assurances for current and future EU students studying in the UK.
The UK and EU member states share the same belief in peace, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It is in the interests of all European people that security cooperation between the UK Government and the EU is maintained. New and dynamic arrangements should be embedded in a treaty that sets out details on security, law enforcement and criminal justice. It should also facilitate an ongoing dialogue and be sufficiently flexible to respond to evolving threats.
The safety of the British people and of Europe is a priority for the Government. The UK has the largest defence budget in Europe and along with France, the UK is the only EU member state with a permanent seat at the UN Security Council and with an independent nuclear deterrent. The UK is also one of the few countries in Europe to spend 2 per cent of its GDP on defence as recommended by NATO. After it leaves the EU, the country will continue to play a key role in European security and defence. The UK will seek a strong future defence relationship with the EU and will continue to work with EU member states in the fight against terrorism and crime.
As set out in Article 50, the treaties of the EU will cease to apply to the UK when the withdrawal agreement enters into force, or failing that, two years from the day the UK submitted its notification, unless there is a unanimous agreement with the other 27 member states to extend the process. The UK will leave the EU in March 2019 and its membership of the single market will end at this point.
The Prime Minister has said that she is certain that a positive withdrawal agreement can be reached with the EU. A good deal for Britain and a good deal for Europe are not competing alternatives and they are not mutually exclusive. Not reaching a deal would be a damaging blow for the future security and prosperity of the UK and Europe. For that reason, I do not want or expect an outcome with no deal but the Government is preparing for all eventualities as a responsible government ought to do.
Thank you for taking the time to contact me.