“What I’m proposing cannot mean membership of the single market,” she said in a speech to ambassadors called Plan for Britain.
She explained that the UK could not accept the four freedoms of goods, capital, services and people attached to the single market
“Being out of the EU but a member of the single market would mean complying with the EU’s rules and regulations that implement those freedoms, without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are,” she pointed out.
She insisted that the message from British voters was clear: “Brexit must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe. And that is what we will deliver.”
May added that a post-Brexit UK could not accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
“We will not have truly left the European Union if we are not in control of our own laws,” she said, adding that “leaving the European Union will mean that our laws will be made in Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast”.
No new Norway
Faced with a risk of another independence referendum in Scotland and difficulties to continue implementing the peace agreement in Northern Ireland, the British prime minister tried to reassure the different parts of the UK.
She insisted that the devolved administrations “should be fully engaged” in the Brexit process and that she would work with the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
She said she would work to find “a practical solution that allows the maintenance of the common travel area” between the UK and the Republic of Ireland.
“Nobody wants to return to the borders of the past,” she said.
To replace Britain’s EU and single market membership, May said she would seek “the greatest possible access” to the single market through a “new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious free trade agreement”.
She said that, in her view, the deal could build upon some elements of the single market membership, because “it makes no sense to start again from scratch when Britain and the remaining member states have adhered to the same rules for so many years”.
However, she warned that “the days of Britain making vast contributions to the European Union every year will end”, suggesting she ruled out the so-called Norwegian model of access to the single market.
She also warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain and discourages other countries from taking the same path” would be “calamitous self-harm” for the remaining EU countries.
“Britain would not, indeed we could not, accept such an approach,” she said, adding that “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.”
She said however that she was “confident that a positive agreement can be reached”.
A day after the US president-elect expressed support for Brexit and said that other countries would leave the EU, the British PM insisted that Brexit was “no attempt to do harm to the EU itself or to any of its remaining member states”.
“We will continue to be reliable partners, willing allies and close friends,” she said, adding that “Britain’s unique intelligence capabilities will continue to help to keep people in Europe safe from terrorism”.
‘Come together’ plea
May’s speech was the most expansive view of what her government’s strategy will be when it triggers article 50 – the EU treaty clause to start exit talks – before the end of March.
It comes two weeks after Britain’s EU ambassador quit and criticised the government’s lack of strategy.
But May said she would not be “pressured into saying more than I believe it is in our national interest to say” and that “every stray word and every hyped up media report is going to make it harder for us to get the right deal for Britain”.
The speech also comes as the High Court is expected to rule soon over whether the British parliament should vote before article 50 is triggered.
In a gesture to parliament, May said that both the House of Commons and the House of Lords would vote on the final Brexit deal before it comes into force.
She said after a “divisive” referendum the country must “come together”.
“The victors have the responsibility to act magnanimously. The losers have the responsibility to respect the legitimacy of the outcome,” she said.