This is a critical period in the history of the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union. At this important moment, my message to people in Slovakia and across the EU is clear – in the years ahead, the United Kingdom wants to be your strongest friend and partner. We want to see the EU and the UK thrive together, side by side.
Our decision to leave the institution of the European Union was a statement about how we want our democracy to work. The British people want more direct control of the decisions that affect their daily lives, and that means those decisions being made in Britain, by those who are directly accountable to the British people.
But we are still proud to be a member of the European family of nations. We are not turning our back on Europe and we know that a successful EU is profoundly in our own interest, and that of the whole world.
Life for us will, of course, be different. We understand that Britain cannot leave the EU and have everything stay just the same. We do not pretend that you can have all the benefits of membership without also accepting the obligations. But we do want to carry on working together for our mutual benefit.
So our task is to create a new framework that allows for a close economic partnership, but holds those rights and obligations in a new and different balance. In developing that new relationship, we do not start with a blank sheet of paper, like other partners negotiating a free trade deal have done. On the day we leave, we will have the same rules and regulations as the EU.
So the question for us now in building a new economic partnership is not how we bring our rules and regulations closer together, but what we do when one of us wants to make changes.
Another important issue is how we look after European nationals living in the UK and British nationals living in the Member States of the EU. I repeat to all EU citizens who have made their lives in Britain: we want you to stay, we value you, and we thank you for your contribution to our national life. One of my first goals in these negotiations is to ensure that you can carry on living your lives here as before. I want to incorporate our agreement on citizens’ rights fully into UK law. No one should doubt the independence of our courts or the rigour with which they will uphold individuals’ legal rights.
Indeed, Britain will always stand with our friends and allies in defence of the values of liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Our decision to leave the European Union is in no way a repudiation of this longstanding commitment. That also applies to our commitment to Europe’s security.
The United Kingdom has the biggest defence budget in Europe and one of the largest development budgets in the World. We have a far reaching diplomatic network, and world class security, intelligence and law enforcement services. We want to carry on working as closely as possible with the EU, protecting our citizens, promoting our values and ensuring the security of our continent. So we are proposing a bold new strategic agreement that provides a comprehensive framework for future security, law enforcement and criminal justice co-operation: a treaty between the UK and the EU.
The United Kingdom is unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security. We will continue to offer aid and assistance to EU member states that are the victims of armed aggression, terrorism and natural or manmade disasters.
We also want to give certainty to remaining EU members like Slovakia over the EU Budget. Some of the claims made on this issue are exaggerated and unhelpful and we can only resolve this as part of the settlement of all the wider issues. But I do not want our partners to fear that they will need to pay more or receive less over the remainder of the current budget plan as a result of our decision to leave. So I have made it clear that the UK will honour commitments we have made during the period of our membership.
The goals I have set out are all designed to create a long-term relationship through which the European Union and the United Kingdom can work together for the mutual benefit of all our citizens.
To transition to that new relationship in a smooth and orderly way, a period of implementation would be in our mutual interest. How long that period is should be determined simply by how long it will take to prepare and implement the new processes that will underpin our future partnership, but we expect it to last for around two years.
We have already made considerable progress. If we continue our negotiations in a spirit of partnership and friendship, then I believe we can resolve our disagreements respectfully and quickly. That way, this period of our European history will record not a relationship ended, but a new partnership begun. It will be the beginning of a shared future, with the UK and the EU working side by side to deliver prosperity and opportunity for all our people.
Theresa May is British Prime Minister