Britain will quit the EU single market when it leaves the European Union, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Tuesday in a decisive speech that set a course for a clean break with the world's largest trading bloc.
Setting out a vision that could determine Britain's future for generations and the shape of the EU itself, May answered criticism that she has been coy about her strategy with a 12-point plan for what has been dubbed a "hard Brexit".
|Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May answers questions after delivering a speech on leaving the European Union at Lancaster House in London, January 17, 2017. REUTERS/Kirsty Wigglesworth/Pool
May promised to seek the greatest possible access to European markets but said Britain would aim to establish its own free trade deals with countries far beyond Europe, and impose limits on immigration from the continent.
For the first time, she acknowledged that those measures would require withdrawing from the market of 500 million people, founded on principles of free movement of goods and people.
"I want to be clear: what I am proposing cannot mean membership of the single market," said May, who became prime minister in the turmoil after Britain voted in June to leave the EU. "Instead, we seek the greatest possible access to it through a new comprehensive, bold and ambitious free trade agreement."
The media had been briefed on some of the points in May's speech since Sunday, and the expectation she would signal a hard Brexit had caused the pound to fall on currency markets from the start of this week.
Markets rallied during the speech itself, however, especially when she announced that parliament would be given a vote on the final terms of Britain's exit, seen as a steadying influence. Sterling rose 2.9 percent against the dollar on the day, the biggest rally in a single day since at least 1998.