Prime Minister Theresa May said Tuesday the United Kingdom will leave Europe’s single market, confirming plans for a “Hard Brexit” that would dramatically reshape the U.K.’s economic and immigration relations with the rest of Europe.

May’s remarks set out her government’s Brexit strategy in the most detailed terms offered to date. The U.K. intends to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to formally begin the process of withdrawing from the European Union by the end of March. That would set off a two-year negotiating period that would have the U.K. leave the European Union in 2019.

“We do not seek to hold on to bits of membership as we leave,” May said. “The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union and my job is to get the right deal for Britain as we do.”

Among other points, May said:

  • The U.K. will not seek partial or associate membership in the EU and will not remain in the single market. The U.K. will instead negotiate an entirely new free-trade deal with the EU. This would involve seeking access to the single market without being part of it, thus avoiding associated costs and responsibilities.
  • Parliament will be given a vote on the final terms of negotiation with the EU. This reflects the likely outcome of a case now before the Supreme Court that would require a vote by Parliament before Article 50 can be invoked. A High Court ruled against the government in November. The Supreme Court is expected to rule any day.
  • The U.K. will make it a priority to protect the Common Travel Area with Ireland, and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be involved in negotiations.
  • The U.K. will deliver on public demands for controls on the number of EU nationals arriving in the U.K.
  • The government would like to guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the U.K. at an early stage in the negotiations, but will only do so if there is a reciprocal deal for U.K. nationals in the EU. The future of EU nationals in the U.K., therefore, seems largely dependent on the postures of other European governments toward the U.K. in Brexit negotiations.
  • The U.K. should avoid a “purgatory” of long-term transitional arrangements, but rather should pursue a quick, clean break.

May also stressed that while the U.K. wants to be the “friend and neighbor” to the EU, it would look beyond Europe to the wider world as well, taking an international, not isolationist, approach.

Background: The U.K. narrowly voted to leave the EU in June of 2016, in part due to popular disapproval of the “free movement of people” from within the EU and the overall difficulties of managing immigration in the U.K. May has kept her cards close to the vest ahead of the triggering of Article 50. She bowed to pressure Tuesday to provide a more detailed plan, but did not satisfy demands from some corners. May has not, for example, provided a detailed white paper or other written document to submit to MPs for consideration, as some have called for.

What’s clear, however, is that the government will pursue a “Hard Brexit.” Chancellor Philip Hammond separately confirmed, “We cannot be members of the single market because of the political lines around the four key freedoms that the other leaders have set.” One of those freedoms is the free movement of people, which would prohibit the U.K. from controlling migration from Europe if it were to remain a part of the single market. Instead, the government is aiming for a free-trade deal with the EU, leaving the immigration of EEA nationals and their families outside of any trade agreement that might be reached.

BAL Analysis: Brexit will affect all aspects of the U.K. economy, legal system and immigration scheme. May’s remarks all but dashed hopes for a “Soft Brexit,” in which free movement policies and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice would remain in place. It is safe to assume that future migration from EU member states will be subsumed in the U.K.’s overall immigration framework. The failure, so far, to offer guaranteed relief for the 3 million EEA nationals currently in the U.K. is a disappointment. Additionally, fear of “cliff edge” change immediately after Brexit has not been allayed, as May made it clear the U.K. should not accept a “purgatory” of long-term transitional arrangements.

BAL continues to follow all Brexit developments and continues to consult both with clients and the government, when possible. Additional Brexit coverage is available in BAL’s Brexit Bulletin. BAL is available to provide analysis for your particular business. Please contact to discuss strategic planning and the options available to your company.

This alert has been provided by the BAL Global Practice group in the United Kingdom. For additional information, please contact

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