Britain’s vote to leave the EU has left many Europeans with “doubts about what kind of country we are” following last year’s vote to leave the bloc, the Brexit Secretary says.
Speaking to an audience in Berlin, David Davis insisted that the UK did not want to isolate itself after withdrawal and that the UK was “the same country that we’ve always been” – as he spelled out his vision for a bespoke, comprehensive trade deal between Britain and the EU covering services as well as goods.
The minister also insisted that the decision to leave the single market and customs union was not an “ideological” one and that the UK had decided to quit the economic bloc out of respect for the indivisibility of the EU’s four freedoms.
“I recognise that, since the referendum last year, some in the European Union have had their doubts about what kind of country we are, or indeed what we stand for,” he said, speaking at the Süddeutsche Zeitung economic conference.
“Now if you want to know the mind of a nation all one must do is read its press, so with that in mind I looked through some copies of Suddeutsche Zeitung. I read that ‘Britain wants to isolate itself’, that we are ‘short-sighted islanders’, or ‘Inselbewohner’.
“Well I’m afraid I have to disagree. We are the same country we have always been, with the same values and same principles we have always had: a country upon which our partners can rely.
“The sixth largest economy in the world, and a beacon for free trade across the globe; and when it comes to trade – as we forge a new path for Britain outside the European Union – I believe we can be its boldest advocate.”
Turning to the nature of the deal, he said the UK would not “pretend that you can have all the benefits of membership of the single market without its obligations”.
The minister said continued cooperation between Britain and the EU on issues like the mutual recognition of qualifications and health and safety standards would be crucial for trade to continue.
“We will be a third country partner like no other. Much closer than Canada, much bigger than Norway, and uniquely integrated on everything from energy networks to services,” he said.
“The key pillar of this will be a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement – the scope of which should be beyond any the EU has agreed before.
“One that allows for a close economic partnership while holding the UK’s rights and obligations in a new and different balance.
“It should, amongst other things, cover goods, agriculture and services, including financial services – seeking the greatest possible tariff-free trade, carried out with the least friction possible. And it should be supported by continued close cooperation in highly regulated areas such as transport, energy and data.”
Mr Davis delivered his speech as the clock ticked down before the next European Council summit – and the next opportunity for the EU to grant Britain “sufficient progress” in negotiation to move to trade talks.
Theresa May is due to meet with Donald Tusk on Friday, the president of the European Council, with whom she will discuss Brexit.
Next week the Prime Minister is also expected to continue her charm offensive and meet with officials behind closed doors in the European Parliament, though no date has yet been confirmed for the meeting.
A week ago Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, spelled out a deadline of two weeks for the UK to make concessions or clarifications on its position before trade talks were postponed by another three to four months.
If no sufficient progress – as defined by the EU – can be made on the three separation issues before the December meeting of the European Council, trade talks will not be able to start until at least March.
Because of the time-limited nature of the Article 50 process, this would throw off the Brexit timetable and leave little time to negotiate a full deal.
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