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May's Brexit speech outlines direction, fails to quell uneasiness

2017-January-18       Source: Xinhuanet.com

British Prime Minister Teresa May assured in her speech here on Tuesday that Brexit would pronounce a new partnership between her country and the European Union, but it seems that many who have listened to her still felt a sense of loss and uncertainty.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May delivers her keynote "Brexit speech" in Lancaster House in London, Britain on Jan. 17, 2017. British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday confirmed that Britain will leave the EU single market while insisting that it wants to remain "the best friend and neighbor" to European partners. (Xinhua)

British Prime Minister Teresa May assured in her speech here on Tuesday that Brexit would pronounce a new partnership between her country and the European Union, but it seems that many who have listened to her still felt a sense of loss and uncertainty.

This is May's first important speech on her government's guiding principles on Brexit since the Britons voted to leave the EU in a referendum in June last year.

"We are leaving the European Union, not Europe," she said in her speech in Lancaster House.

Though pledging to continue to be a close ally of the EU and seek a free trade agreement with EU member states, the prime minister also made clear that the days that Britain has made huge contributions to the EU are at an end and it would control EU immigration to lessen pressures on its schools and social services.

CAUTIOUS MARKET RESPONSE

Aiming to build a stronger, fairer and more global Britain, May carefully worded her speech in an attempt to inject fresh impetus to the stagnant economy and alleviate public uneasiness.

Brexit has long been considered the top factor hurting the prospects of the British economy, and that overwhelming pessimism is shown in the dropping value of the pound, which slumped almost 20 percent against the U.S. dollar and nearly 14 percent against the euro since the vote.

Surprisingly, the pound rallied on May's speech Tuesday. On Monday, it was as low as 1.20 dollars, the weakest level since October 2016 and near a 31-year low.

Some cautious investors expect the rally of the sterling to be short-lived, as May's speech hardly dispels doubts as to how she could "seek the greatest possible access" to the EU single market, which accounts for 44 percent of Britain's total exports in goods and services in 2015.

The FTSE 100, London's benchmark stock market index, sustained an early plunge, led by exporters and mining companies as May spoke, another indicator of market pessimism.

DIVIDED PUBLIC

Months after the Brexit vote and just hours before May's speech, Britons' views on the issue remain hugely different.

Beryl Tarpey, a 72-year-old retired manager from Cheshire, told Xinhua that he supports Britain's departure from the EU.

"Too many young people in Britain are finding it harder to get jobs because of the influx of Europeans. It just cannot continue. If coming out of the single market is the price we have to pay for taking control of our borders, then so be it."

Chris Burgess, a businessman from Liverpool agreed. "I talk to owners of small businesses every day and I am convinced that whatever happens people will find new and innovative ways of reacting to changing circumstances. In that respect I have no fears of a hard Brexit," he said.

Nick Small, a Labour councillor in Liverpool responsible for education, employment and skills, said he is totally opposed to a hard Brexit. "I believe we need to keep trading with Europe and have easy access to the single market. What we are seeing is politics being put before the economy."

For Tom Cridland, a businessman engaged in ready-to-wear imports, a hard exit from the European single market would mean a higher cost.

"I feel a bit disappointed. Then I have to consider setting up logistic centers in Italy or Portugal. It may cost more," he told Xinhua.

On the foreign trade front, as EU accounts for roughly half of Britain's trade volumes, market watchers fear that a Brexit would possibly result in the denial of Britain's access to the European single market.

However, May stressed that by embracing Brexit, Britain is abandoning the membership of a single market, but will pursue "greatest possible access to the single market on a fully reciprocal basis through a comprehensive free trade agreement."

EU'S READINESS TO TALK

Britain's neighbors sounded a sigh of relief that the British government finally rolled out its Brexit plan, and expressed their readiness to embark on the tough journey.

European Council President Donald Tusk said on Twitter that May's speech on Brexit was "at least more realistic," adding that the 27 other EU members remained united and ready to negotiate.

"Sad process, surrealistic times but at least more realistic announcement on Brexit," said Tusk, who will oversee the negotiations on behalf of the other member states.

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier also said after May's speech that the EU is "ready as soon as UK is. Only notification can kick off negotiations."

German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said it's good that there is a bit more clarity on Britain's direction after May's speech, and it is important to move forward quickly and orderly.

UNITY WITHIN BRITAIN URGED

Talking about the highly contentious referendum on Brexit, May also called for unity within her country to show respect for democracy.

The Scottish National Party warned that May "must not ignore the views of the people of Scotland and the Scottish parliament," after about 60 percent of voters in Scotland opted to remain in the EU in the Brexit referendum last June.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said May's Brexit plan was "economically catastrophic" for the country.

In the opinion of the first minister, the British government "cannot be allowed to take us out of the EU and the single market, regardless of the impact on our economy, jobs, living standards and our reputation as an open, tolerant country, without Scotland having the ability to choose between that and a different future.

Britain's Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn cautioned there were enormous danger in what May said.

"She makes out this is a negotiating threat to the 27 EU countries, but it's actually a threat to the British people's jobs, services and living standards," Corbyn said.

So, besides lengthy negotiations ahead with the EU, how to unite the different parties in Britain would remain a hard task for May.

Editor: Chan

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