AN UNCOMPROMISING Theresa May has declared that she means “business” after finally setting out the timetable for Britain’s exit from the European Union.
The Prime Minister also warned that she would not allow Scotland’s “divisive nationalists” to undermine the United Kingdom as she confirmed that Article 50 will be triggered by the end of next March.
The announcement paves the way for Brexit to take place by the summer of 2019 - a year ahead of the scheduled date of the next general election.
In her first party conference speech as Conservative leader, Mrs May also said that the next Queen’s Speech will include a Great Repeal Bill which will give Parliament total jurisdiction to determine new laws.
However she confirmed that existing EU employment legislation protecting the legal rights of workers “will continue to be guaranteed in law” for “as long as I am Prime Minister”.
This well received speech also made clear that the Government will uphold the result of the June 23 referendum – and that there would not be a vote in both Houses of Parliament before two years of negotiations with the European Union after the formal tabling of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
Mrs May confirmed that Attorney General will represent the Government in the High Court next week when advocates of Britain’s continued membership of the EU will attempt to delay the political process.
“People who argue that Article 50 can only be triggered after agreement in both Houses of Parliament are not standing up for democracy, they’re trying to subvert it,” declared Mrs May.
“They’re not trying to get Brexit right, they’re trying to kill it by delaying it. They are insulting the intelligence of the British people. That is why, next week, I can tell you that the Attorney General himself, Jeremy Wright, will act for the Government and resist them in the courts.
“Likewise, the negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union are the responsibility of the Government and nobody else. Because we voted in the referendum as one United Kingdom, we will negotiate as one United Kingdom, and we will leave the European Union as one United Kingdom. There is no opt-out from Brexit. And I will never allow divisive nationalists to undermine the precious Union between the four nations of our United Kingdom.”
Taking the unusual step for a Tory leader of addressing the conference on its opening day, Mrs May rejected the argument Britain must choose between “hard Brexit” - in which it regains control over immigration but loses access to the European single market - and “soft Brexit”, under which access to the single market comes with a requirement to allow free movement of EU workers.
“Whether people like it or not, the country voted to leave the EU,” said Mrs May. “That means we are going to leave the EU.”
The Prime Minsiter pledged: “We are going to be a fully independent, sovereign country. That means we are going, once more, to have the freedom to make our own decisions from how we label our food to the way in which we choose to control immigration.”
To loud applause, she added: “I know some people ask about the ‘trade-off’ between controlling immigration and trading with Europe. But that is the wrong way of looking at things. We have voted to leave the European Union and become a fully independent, sovereign country. We will do what independent, sovereign countries do. We will decide for ourselves how we control immigration. And we will be free to pass our own laws.”
She said her aim would be to strike a deal with the UK’s EU partners to include “co-operation on law enforcement and counter-terrorism work and to give British companies “the maximum freedom to trade with and operate in the single market and let European businesses do the same here”.
She added: “Let me be clear: We are not leaving the European Union only to give up control of immigration again. And we are not leaving only to return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. We don’t need – as I sometimes hear people say – to “punch above our weight”. Because our weight is substantial enough already. So let’s ignore the pessimists, let’s have the confidence in ourselves to go out into the world, securing trade deals, winning contracts, generating wealth and creating jobs. Let’s show the country we mean business.”
European Council President Donald Tusk welcomed Mrs May’s “clarity” which he said would allow the remaining 27 EU states to “engage to safeguard (their) interests”.