Pro-Remain MPs have praised the Prime Minister for her latest stance on EU negotiations, after she appeared to dismiss claims that she is set on leaving the single market.
The comments follow a press conference in London in which Theresa May played down reports she wants a “hard” Brexit, and stressed her commitment to securing the “best possible deal” to continue trade with Europe.
This message was heralded as a change in tone from an interview she gave at the weekend, in which she said Britain would not keep “bits” of EU membership.
At the time this was widely interpreted as a sign that the UK is on course to leave the single market – but remain campaigners have expressed renewed optimism that the alternatives are still up for negotiation.
“It’s encouraging to see Theresa May reject the idea of a hard, destructive Brexit, and say that she will aim for a new deal with the European Union that puts the economy at its heart,” said the Tory MP and Open Britain supporter Anna Soubry.
“She has surely noticed the dreadful reaction from the markets each time the Government hints that it will aim to leave the single market.
“Business knows that continued full participation in the single market is best for British jobs, growth and prosperity.
“When the Prime Minister further outlines the Government’s negotiating aims, she should commit to keeping Britain in the single market and ensure that reforming immigration and protecting our economy are not mutually exclusive.”
The Prime Minister’s comments on Brexit came at the end of a keynote speech in which she set out plans to transform the country’s mental health services.
Picking up from where her predecessor David Cameron left off, Mrs May unveiled a series of proposals designed to improve access to care, including an expansion of digital mental health services and increased support for schools and employers.
She also announced an additional £15m of funding for schemes that provide sufferers of mental ill-health with an alternative to hospital settings, in addition to the £15m already invested.
And she vowed to end the “unfair practice” that sees GPs charge patients up to £300 to complete a form confirming their illness to debt advisors and creditors.
Her proposals were welcomed by many within the sector, including the charity Mind which said the speech “shows how far we have come in bringing the experiences of people with mental health problems up the political agenda”.
But they drew criticism from both Labour and the Lib Dems, particularly after she refused to state whether or not mental health budgets would be ring-fenced to help fund the changes.
Sheffield Central MP and shadow minister Paul Blomfield said it was “deeply cynical” of the Prime Minister to be talking up her concern about young people’s mental health “whilst doing nothing to address the lack of funding for the services they need”.
“Concern about mental health was one of the biggest issues raised at meetings with young people... But today’s announcement lets these young people down,” he said.
Responding to questions after the speech, Mrs May criticised suggestions that the UK is faced with a binary choice between “soft” and “hard” Brexit – the latter of which is typically used to mean leaving the single market.
She suggested media outlets that claim a hard Brexit is “absolutely inevitable” are wrong, adding: “What we are doing is going to get... the best possible deal for the United Kingdom in terms of trading with... the single market”.