May denies muddled Brexit thinking as she stresses immigration control priority
Theresa May has denied her Government is suffering from muddled thinking on Brexit as she stressed the importance that will be given to gaining full control over immigration during divorce negotiations with Brussels.
The Prime Minister said some people had suggested the UK could "keep bits" of EU membership as it looks to leave the bloc.
But Mrs May appeared to shut down that possibility as she said: "We are leaving. We are coming out. We are not going to be a member of the EU any longer."
Speculation over whether the UK will be able to maintain full access to the single market while also demanding control of its borders has dominated Brexit discussions since the vote to Leave on June 23.
And while Mrs May said she did not view the issue as "binary", her comments are likely to put the Government on a collision course with advocates of a so-called soft Brexit which would see the UK stay in the single market.
The Prime Minister used her first broadcast interview of the New Year to outline her belief that she will be able to secure control over immigration as well as favourable trading terms with the European Union.
She said: "Often people talk in terms as if somehow we are leaving the EU but we still want to kind of keep bits of membership of the EU.
"We are leaving. We are coming out. We are not going to be a member of the EU any longer.
"So the question is: what is the right relationship for the UK to have with the European Union when we are outside?
"We will be able to have control of our borders, control of our laws.
"This is what people were voting for on June 23. But of course we still want the best possible deal for us, companies to be able to trade, UK companies to be able to trade in and operate within the European Union and also European companies to be able to trade with the UK and operate within the UK."
Critics believe it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the Government to secure full access to the single market while also demanding complete border control.
But Mrs May said: "It's wrong to look at this as just a binary issue as to either you have control of immigration or you have a good trade deal."
The Government is due to trigger Article 50 and kickstart Brexit negotiations before the end of March.
But the Government's preparations were dealt a blow by the shock resignation of Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK's top EU diplomat, on Tuesday last week.
Mrs May was asked during her interview on the Sophy Ridge On Sunday show on Sky News if Sir Ivan's assessment, set out in an email to staff, that there was "muddled thinking" over Brexit was accurate.
"Our thinking on this isn't muddled at all," she said.
The Prime Minister said she wanted to deliver a "really good, ambitious trade deal" that allows UK companies to "trade in and operate in the European single market".
However, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said Mrs May's comments indicated she was "taking us towards a disastrous hard Brexit" with the UK on course to leave the single market.
He said: "Reckless plans to leave the single market would deal a huge blow to jobs, investment and the public finances, meaning less funding for services like the overstretched NHS."
Sir Keir Starmer, Labour's shadow Brexit secretary, told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend the PM must answer whether she is "putting such a priority on immigration" that she is "prepared to do real damage" to the UK economy.
He said: "It's been the question that's sort of been nagging away for some time and I don't think we have had a clear answer."