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PM calls for 'co-operative' relationship as she seeks 'smooth' Brexit

Published 21/10/2016

Theresa May talks to European Parliament president Martin Schultz as they arrive for an EU summit group photo (AP)
Theresa May talks to European Parliament president Martin Schultz as they arrive for an EU summit group photo (AP)

Theresa May has called for a "mature and co-operative" relationship between Britain and the EU, as she seeks a "smooth" Brexit which she said can be in the interests of both sides.

The Prime Minister was speaking at the conclusion of her first European Council summit, at which she was given just five minutes at the end of dinner in the early hours of the morning to set out her position on Brexit.

Her demands for Britain to play a full role in the European Union while it quits the bloc have sparked anger in Brussels, with some senior figures saying it was wrong for the UK to try to shape the future of the EU while it is trying to leave.

In a press conference at the end of the two-day summit, Mrs May said she had made clear that the UK "will continue to play a full and active role within the EU" until the process of withdrawal under Article 50 of the EU treaties is completed.

The PM said she wanted to "cement Britain as a close partner of the EU once we have left", able to control immigration as well as trading freely with the continent.

She said: "The UK will continue to face similar challenges to our European neighbours, we will continue to share the same values, so I want a mature, co-operative relationship with our European partners.

"I recognise the scale of the challenge ahead. I'm sure there will be difficult moments. It will require some give and take.

"But I firmly believe that if we approach this in a constructive spirit - as I am - then we can deliver a smooth departure and build a powerful new relationship that works both for the UK and for the countries of the EU looking for opportunities, not problems.

"That's in British interests and it's in the interests of all our European partners too."

Mrs May said she wanted to see the completion of the EU's Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) free trade deal with Canada, which is currently being held up by opposition in the Walloon regional parliament in Belgium.

But she stressed: "From the UK's point of view, we are not looking to replicate a model that another country has, we are not looking to adopt another model that somebody else has in relation to their trade with the European Union.

"What we want is to develop what is a new relationship for the UK with the EU, to be there when we are outside the EU. What we want is to ensure that we have the right deal for the UK.

"I'm optimistic about that. Obviously, we've got negotiations ahead. Those negotiations will take time, there will be some difficult moments, it will need some give and take."

Over lunch with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker at the end of the summit, the PM reiterated the call for Britain to be given a "bespoke" settlement.

The deal must include control over migration as well as favourable trade terms, she told the EU chief.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "She explained that we wanted to see a strong and stable EU after our departure and to be close partners.

"The Prime Minister set out that the UK would be looking for a bespoke model rather than an 'off the shelf' solution. She explained that we would need to see controls on the numbers of people who come to Britain from Europe as well as a positive outcome for those who wish to trade in goods and services.

"They agreed we should approach the Brexit negotiations in a positive and constructive spirit to ensure the process is as smooth and orderly as possible."

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