Theresa May: '˜divisive nationalists' will not weaken the UK

Prime Minister Theresa May has insisted there will be 'no opt-out from Brexit' for any of the four nations of the UK.

Prime Minister Theresa May said 'divisive nationalists' would not undermine the Union. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Prime Minister Theresa May said 'divisive nationalists' would not undermine the Union. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

The Prime Minister said she would invoke Article 50 by the end of March 2017, triggering two years of negotiations to leave the EU.

But the risk of a constitutional crisis loomed large as the Scottish Government said it would oppose crucial legislation necessary to bring EU legal authority in Britain to an end.

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MSPs '˜might block' Theresa May's EU Great Repeal Bill
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A Great Repeal Bill will be introduced in the Queen’s Speech at the start of the next session of parliament at Westminster, removing the 1972 European Community Act that took the UK into Europe from the statute books.

Mrs May insisted that “divisive nationalists” would not hold up the Brexit process, and said Scottish ministers would be shut out of negotiations with the EU.

“I have already said that we will consult and work with the devolved administrations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, because we want Brexit to work in the interests of the whole country,” Mrs May said.

“But the job of negotiating our new relationship is the job of the Government. 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.”

European law will become part of UK statute under Mrs May’s Brexit plan, allowing Westminster to unpick individual regulations. MPs will be given a vote on the proposed legislation, which faces a difficult journey through the House of Lords.

However, the Prime Minister confirmed that Attorney General Jeremy Wright will next week go to court to fight an attempt to give Parliament a vote on the triggering of Article 50.

Mrs May insisted the UK would get a bespoke Brexit deal that protected trading interests while giving the country control over its borders, and pledged that protections for workers’ rights introduced by the EU would be retained. To loud applause, Mrs May said: “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.

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“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.”

To an ovation from Conservative delegates, she added: “We are going to be a fully independent, sovereign country, a country that is no longer part of a political union with supranational institutions that can override national parliaments and courts.

“That means we are going, once more, to have the freedom to make our own decisions on a whole host of different matters, from how we label our food to the way in which we choose to control immigration.”

Mrs May said her timetable would result in a “smooth transition from the EU” and said the other 27 members of the bloc now had to “decide what the process of negotiation is”.

“I hope, and I will be saying to them, now that they know what our timing is going to be - it’s not an exact date but they know it will be in the first quarter of next year - that we’ll be able to have some preparatory work so that once the trigger comes we have a smoother process of negotiation,” she said yesterday morning on the Andrew Marr programme.

“It’s not just important for the UK but important for Europe as a whole that we’re able to do this in the best possible way so we have the least disruption for businesses, and when we leave the EU we have a smooth transition from the EU.”

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Mrs May said Parliament will be kept informed, adding: “This is not about keeping silent for two years, but it’s about making sure that we are able to negotiate, that we don’t set out all the cards in our negotiation because, as anybody will know who’s been involved in these things, if you do that up front, or if you give a running commentary, you don’t get the right deal.”

Reacting to the announcements in Birmingham, European Council President Donald Tusk said other EU states would act to safeguard their own interests, while Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat - who will be president of the Council when Mrs May kicks off talks by invoking Article 50 of the EU treaties - said the single market’s four freedoms of goods, services, capital and people “cannot be decoupled”.

In a series of tweets, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the UK Government’s decisions were being “driven by ideology of the hard Brexiteers, rather than interests of country”.

She added: “PM going out of her way to say Scotland’s voice and interests don’t matter. Strange approach from someone who wants to keep UK together.”

Conservative former minister Anna Soubry claimed that triggering Article 50 meant the EU “holds all the cards” in upcoming Brexit negotiations.

“The Government must be careful about being gung-ho on Article 50,” the pro-EU MP said. “With France and Germany holding elections next year, they should not be scared of taking the time to get this right.

“It is clear that the EU holds most of the cards in negotiations at the moment and any Brexit deal will need the consent of Parliament.

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“As such, the Government should be pressing for a deal that keeps Britain open and engaged with Europe, including keeping us in the single market that supports millions of UK jobs.”

CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn said: “Announcing that Article 50 will be triggered within six months, the Prime Minister has removed one big question - on timing - but has accelerated an urgent need for answers on others.

“With a rapid timetable pointing to an exit from the EU in spring 2019, businesses need to know the Government’s ambition on the fundamental issues of skills and barrier-free access to EU markets as soon as possible.”