The latest Brexit papers will pave the way for the UK to operate as an “independent trading nation”, Theresa May has said.
The documents on post-Brexit trade and customs arrangements were published as the Prime Minister told MPs that “real and tangible progress” had been made in the negotiations since her high-profile Florence speech.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was dismissive about the Prime Minister’s latest update, telling MPs that “no real progress” had been made, 16 months on from the Brexit vote.
Despite an EU official earlier saying further compromise was needed from the UK to move the talks onto the next phase, the future trading relationship, Mrs May insisted it was up to Brussels to show “flexibility”.
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In a statement in the Commons, she said: “A new deep and special partnership between a sovereign United Kingdom and a strong and successful European Union is our ambition and our offer to our European friends.
“Achieving that partnership will require leadership and flexibility, not just from us but from our friends, the 27 nations of the EU.
“And as we look forward to the next stage, the ball is in their court, but I’m optimistic it will receive a positive response, because what we are seeking is not just the best possible deal for us, but I believe that will also be the best possible deal for our friends, too.”
Backbench Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, a prominent Brexit supporter, said the Prime Minister had gone “as far as she could reasonably go” in what she had offered to the EU.
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“If they reject it, then it would indicate a stubbornness, an obduracy, on their part which would indicate that they probably don’t want a deal,” he told Sky News.
Turning to the latest Brexit papers, Mrs May said they “pave the way for legislation to allow the UK to operate as an independent trading nation and to create an innovative customs system that will help us achieve the greatest possible tariff and barrier-free trade as we leave the EU”.
She added: “While I believe it is profoundly in all our interests for the negotiations to succeed, it is also our responsibility as a Government to prepare for every eventuality, so that is exactly what we are doing.
“These white papers also support that work, including setting out steps to minimise disruption for businesses and travellers.”
The trade paper confirmed the UK will not be able to bring into effect any free trade agreements with other nations during the two-year transition period being sought by the Prime Minister. The Government will instead “pursue” trade talks during this phase.
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Existing EU trade deals and preferential arrangements with other countries will be “transitioned” into domestic law through legislation post-Brexit.
This is to maintain “the greatest amount of certainty, continuity and stability in our trade and investment relationships for our businesses, citizens and trading partners,” according to the white paper.
International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox said: “This paper is the first exciting step and sets out the principles behind an approach which will help British businesses to make the most of trade opportunities, contribute to a growing economy and create prosperity for communities up and down the UK.”
The customs bill will create a new “stand alone” customs regime post-Brexit, regardless of whether any deal is agreed with the EU.
VAT and excise duty regimes will be amended so that they continue to function effectively once the UK has severed ties with Brussels.