May Vows She Won’t Try to Keep Britain in EU by ‘Back Door’

  • Ministers meet at Chequers for first time after summer recess
  • Premier pledges to ‘get tough’ on misbehavior by big business

U.K. Sees No Need for Parliament Vote on Article 50

Prime Minister Theresa May vowed she won’t try to keep Britain in the European Union against the wishes of the electorate as her government resumed work on Brexit after a summer break.

“We must continue to be very clear that Brexit means Brexit; that we’re going to make a success of it,” May told ministers on Wednesday, according to remarks e-mailed by her office. “That means there’s no second referendum; no attempts to sort of stay in the EU by the back door; that we’re actually going to deliver on this.”

Theresa May

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

May faces the thorny task of devising a strategy for pulling the U.K. out of the 28-nation bloc while minimizing the damage to the economy, protecting key industries such as finance and negotiating new trade deals with both the EU and countries further afield, including the U.S., India and China. At the same time, she’s made it clear her government won’t become consumed by Brexit, focusing also on social reforms.

“We want to be a government and a country that works for everyone, and we’ll be talking about some of the steps that we need to take in order to build that society that works for everyone,” May told ministers at her country residence, Chequers, northwest of London. She said the government will look at how to increase productivity and “get tough on irresponsible behavior in big business -- again making sure that actually everyone is able to share in the country’s prosperity.”

For an overview of the state of play on Brexit, click here.

The prime minister has repeatedly said she won’t formally begin Brexit talks by triggering Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty before the end of this year. When she does so, Britain will have two years to negotiate its departure and new terms for its relationship with the remaining member states.

“This really is a very significant moment for the country, as we look ahead to the next steps that we need to take. We have the opportunity to forge a new positive role for the U.K. in the world,” May said.

‘Fiscal Discipline’

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Ministers heard an update of the economic outlook from Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, who has hinted at a tax and spending boost for the economy later this year. The cabinet “reiterated the government’s commitment to fiscal discipline and living within our means,” May’s office said in an e-mailed statement later on Wednesday. “They also agreed on the vital need to increase productivity and the importance of doing more to foster economic growth and industrial development in regions up and down the country.”

May also spoke by phone during the day with Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila and Norwegian Premier Erna Solberg, according to her office. She told them that in the Brexit discussions, “we should consider what is going to work best for the U.K. and what is going to work for the European Union, rather than necessarily pursuing an existing model,” it said in an e-mailed statement.

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