Labour warned that Theresa May has still not set out a credible vision for Brexit.
The Prime Minister told European Union leaders she wants the “deepest and broadest possible” trade agreement based on maintaining “high standards” of regulation, while managing any future divergence by the UK from existing rules.
But Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: “Twenty months after the referendum, the Government still has no answers to the critical questions facing the negotiations.
“On the contrary, the Government is paralysed by its own divisions. Theresa May must now prove once and for all that she has the authority and vision to negotiate Britain’s exit from the European Union.”
In a keenly awaited address May said while she wants Britain to have the freedom to strike trade deals around the world, it should be possible to agree a relationship with the EU where they continue to “support each other’s interests”.
She set out some “hard facts” about Brexit, saying: “We are leaving the single market, life is going to be different.” Access to each others’ markets would be “less than it is now,” she acknowledged.
But she stressed that any agreement must respect the outcome of the 2016 referendum vote to take back control of “our borders, laws and money”.
May outlined “five tests” to guide Britain’s approach to the ongoing negotiations: The agreement must respect the outcome of the referendum vote to “take control of our borders, laws and money”. The agreement must endure, without the need to return to the negotiating table “because things have broken down”. It must protect jobs and security, with Britain and the EU continuing to pursue the “shared goals” of growing their economies while keeping their people safe. It must be consistent with Britain remaining “a modern, open, outward-looking, tolerant, European democracy” that stands by its international obligations. And it must strengthen “our union of nations and our union of people”.
Her speech came after European Council president Donald Tusk warned that her determination to take Britain out of the single market and the customs union meant it could not have “frictionless trade” with the EU after Brexit.
The Prime Minister responded that as a “champion of free trade based on high standards”, Britain should be able to agree a “bold and comprehensive economic partnership” with the EU, while striking new trade deals around the world.
“What I am seeking is a relationship that goes beyond the transactional to one where we support each other’s interests,” she said. “So I want the broadest and deepest possible agreement – covering more sectors and co-operating more fully than any free trade agreement anywhere in the world today.
“I believe that is achievable because it is in the EU’s interests as well as ours and because of our unique starting point, where on day one we both have the same laws and rules. So rather than having to bring two different systems closer together, the task will be to manage the relationship once we are two separate legal systems.”