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‘Hard Brexit': May says Britain will leave EU single market

Britain will quit the European Union's single market when it exits the bloc, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Tuesday, in a decisive speech that quashed speculation she would seek a compromise deal to stay inside the world's biggest trading bloc.

Setting out a vision that could chart Britain’s future for generations, May answered criticism that she has been coy about her plans with a direct pitch for a clean break, widely known in Britain as a “hard Brexit”, Reuters reports.

May promised to seek the greatest possible access to European markets. But she also said Britain would aim to establish its own free trade deals with countries far beyond Europe, and to impose limits on immigration from the continent.

For the first time, she acknowledged that those measures would require withdrawing from the market of 500 million people.

“I want to be clear: What I am proposing cannot mean membership of the single market,” May told an audience of foreign diplomats and Britain’s own Brexit negotiating team at a mansion house in London.

“Instead we seek the greatest possible access to it through a new comprehensive, bold and ambitious free trade agreement. That agreement may take in elements of current single market arrangements in certain areas,” May said.

Since May was catapulted into the premiership after Britain voted to leave the EU last June, she has refused to spell out precisely what arrangement she would seek.

That left the country speculating on whether she would opt for a “soft Brexit” that would retain benefits of membership in return for keeping Britain still subject to some EU rules, or pursue a cleaner break. Businesses complained of uncertainty.

The media had been briefed on some of the points in May’s speech since Sunday, and the expectation she would call for a sharp break had caused the pound to fall on currency markets from the start of this week.

However, markets rallied during her speech itself, especially when she made a new announcement that parliament would be given a vote on the final terms of Britain’s exit, seen as a steadying influence. Sterling GBP=D4 rose 2.5 percent against the dollar, the biggest rise since Dec. 2008.

The Brexit talks, expected to be one of the most complicated negotiations in post-World War Two European history, will decide the fate of her premiership, the United Kingdom and possibly the future shape of the European Union itself.