Britain will pull out of the single market when it leaves the European Union, Theresa May said today - finally ending months of uncertainty and confusion.
In her landmark Brexit speech, the Prime Minister said the deal she would be pursuing when the negotiations get underway "cannot mean membership of single market".
She pointed to the EU's demand that all members comply with ‘four freedoms’ – including, crucially, freedom of movement of EU citizens.
It would also mean “complying with EU rules and regulations that implement those freedoms without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are," Ms May told her audience at London's Lancaster House.
The Prime Minister said single market membership would also mean the European Court of Justice having “direct legal authority in our country”.
In her most significant comments on her Brexit strategy yet, she said: “What I am proposing cannot mean membership of the single market.”
She added: "It would, to all intents and purposes, mean not leaving the EU at all”.
Ms May claimed that “both sides” in the referendum debate had “made clear” that a ‘No’ vote would mean leaving the single market.
She said her aim would be the “greatest possible access” to EU markets through a “comprehensive free trade agreement” – although, critics say, that could take many years to achieve.
Britain would continue to pay into the EU budget for “specific EU programmes” of its choosing, adding: “The days of making vast contributions to the EU every year will end”.
On the customs union, the Prime Minister suggested the UK could negotiate some sort of "associate member" access while retaining the right to carry out its own deals with non-EU nations - in other words, becoming exempt from the "common external tariff".
Ms May said full customs union membership would prevent the UK from striking its own comprehensive trade deals.
"I want Britain to be able to negotiate its own trade agreements but I also want tariff-free trade with Europe, and cross-border trade there to be as frictionless as possible.
"That means I do not want Britain to be part of the common commercial policy and I do not want us to be bound by the common external tariff.
"These are the elements of the customs union that prevent us from striking our own comprehensive trade agreements with other countries. But I do want us to have a customs agreement with the EU."
She highlighted Donald Trump's recent comments, in which he said he is keen to do a trade deal with the UK.
"Countries including China, Brazil and the Gulf states have already expressed interest in striking trade deals with us," she said.
"We have started discussions on future trade ties with countries like Australia, New Zealand and India. And President-elect Trump has said that Britain is not at the back of the queue for a trade deal with the United States, the world's biggest economy, but front of the line."
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies