Setting out vision for future ties, Britain’s May presses Brexit plans

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UK Prime Minister Theresa May wants a “business-friendly” Brexit. AFP

LONDON, July 12 (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May published her blueprint for relations with the European Union after Brexit yesterday, putting at its core a plan for a free trade area for goods that has angered many in her party.

In a long-awaited white paper policy document, her government said its negotiating position had “evolved” but that it was sticking to its principles for Brexit, the biggest shift in Britain’s foreign and trading policy in decades.

The 98-page document, which caused the resignations of two of her top ministers earlier this week, suggests the government is hoping to retain close ties with the bloc, participating in its agencies for chemicals, aviation and medicines.

Even before publication, it did not get a ringing endorsement from US President Donald Trump, who said in Brussels he was not sure Ms May’s new approach was what Britain voted for in a 2016 referendum.

There was one major shift – for Britain’s huge financial services sector, with the government abandoning plans for close trading ties favoured by the City of London in favour of a deal that offers flexibility but more limited market access.

“Leaving the European Union involves challenge and opportunity. We need to rise to the challenge and grasp the opportunities,” Brexit minister Dominic Raab, appointed to his position on Monday, wrote in the foreword of the document.

“This is the right approach – for both the UK and for the EU. The White Paper sets out in detail how it would work.”

With less than nine months before Britain is due to leave the bloc, Ms May has been under pressure from businesses, EU officials and her own lawmakers to spell out her negotiating position to unblock the all-but-stalled Brexit talks.

She thrashed out an agreement at her Chequers country residence on Friday, but that was quickly undermined when two of her leading ministers, and Brexit campaigners, quit their jobs in protest at her plan to keep close trade ties.

Her team hopes the publication of the white paper will ease concerns among many Brexit supporters after the resignations of former foreign secretary Boris Johnson and former Brexit negotiator David Davis.

But the document, which spells out in detail where Britain hopes to maintain ties, might add fuel to a simmering rebellion in her Conservative Party.

It is also not clear whether the EU will accept the proposals. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said “the worst” scenario of Britain crashing out of the bloc without a deal was still a possibility.

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