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The hard road to Brexit(Hindu.)

Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech on her government’s plans for Britain’s exit from the EU was many things at once — a declaration of intent, a warning, a motivational talk and a balancing act with several contradictions. She painted the first stroke on the negotiation canvas: Britain had chosen a “hard Brexit”. It would leave the single market and with it gain more control over its borders and its laws, some of which are currently under the oversight of the European Courts of Justice. This, Ms. May said, is what the people had chosen. At the same time, the U.K. would seek to negotiate a deal that would give it as much access to the single market without being a part of it. It would seek a modified customs union membership to be able to negotiate its own trade treaties with non-EU countries, and build what the Prime Minister called a “truly global Britain”. This vision had been built up by Ms. May since the June 2016 referendum, and her speech reiterated it was the alternative, and better, future that awaited Britain. The Prime Minister pushed and pulled at the EU, with praise and warning. Ms. May spoke of her country’s good intentions for the continent and her optimism for a good deal with Europe, but said she would accept a no-deal over a bad one. She warned that it would be “calamitously” harmful to Europe if it penalised the U.K. for leaving. She spoke of wanting to strike a trade deal with the EU but hinted that if it did not get a good deal the U.K. had the rest of the world to trade with, and the option to offer tax incentives to attract “the best companies and the biggest investors”.

Ms. May, who was herself a “Remainer”, is trying to make the most of the referendum results for the U.K., and this is her job. It is in this context that her speech must be seen. Neither the British government nor those who supported the move to leave the EU should harbour any illusions that some of the goals outlined in the speech will be difficult to achieve. The EU, which according to recent data accounts for approximately half the U.K.’s imports and exports, is likely to be overwhelmingly important to it after the exit. It is not just the EU that will experience great harm from a bad deal. Trade deals with non-EU countries such as India are likely to involve greater movement of people across borders and this is bound to raise difficult immigration issues again. The Scottish Parliament has now reiterated its resolve to discuss with Downing Street Scotland’s continuation in the single market, and a second referendum for Scottish independence is now more likely. Nobody said it would be easy.

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