Theresa May was subjected to derisive laughter from opposition MPs after suggesting that she tried to give the EU advice on how best to move forward with the single market after Brexit.

The Prime Minister was updating the Commons on her return from a European Council meeting in Brussels, where the subject of the UK leaving the bloc was top of the agenda.

Since Britain voted for Brexit at last year’s referendum, Ms May has pursued an exit that will also see the UK leaving the bloc’s economic single market and customs union, mechanisms which allow for the freest trade with the other 27 members.

And it seems that Labour MPs detected a hint of irony in the Prime Minister saying she wanted to see these markets strengthened and extended, even as the UK crashes out of them.

“I want us to build a new relationship with the EU,” Ms May said, “[but] a successful and competitive European market in the future will remain in our national interest.

“At this council I called for further steps to complete the single market and the digital single market,” she said – at which point opposition members burst out laughing.

The Prime Minister was forced to pause and said – “wait for it” – before continuing: “I also welcomed the completion of the free trade agreement between the EU and China and pressed for an agreement with Japan in the coming months.

“For these agreements will lay the foundation for our continued trading relationship with these countries as we leave the EU.”

In other words, Britain is already framing its post-Brexit trading positions, not simply meddling where it is no longer welcome. Ms May’s ministers seemed convinced – Labour MPs less so.

Comments