May denies Britain heading for 'hard Brexit'


London (AFP)

Prime Minister Theresa May denied Monday that Britain was heading for a "hard Brexit" and insisted her hopes for immigration control were not incompatible with a good trade deal with the EU.

"He talks about the 'hard Brexit' that the government is going to take this country into. There is no suggestion of that whatsoever," she said after a challenge by an opposition lawmaker in the House of Commons.

"That's because the right honourable gentleman seems to think that all of these matters are binary decisions between either you're able to control immigration, or you have some sort of decent trade arrangements.

"That is not the case. We are going to be ambitious for what we obtain for the United Kingdom, which means a good trade deal as well as control over immigration."

EU leaders have insisted that access to Europe's single market is dependent on the freedom of movement, something that May has promised to end after the issue of immigration dominated the EU referendum debate.

Businesses are pressing for continued access to the single market of 500 million people, warning that leaving it would result in the imposition of debilitating tariffs.

"For people who put this purely in terms of some variation of access to or membership of the single market, what matters is what the trading relationship is," May said.

"If we bind ourselves by saying it has to be in this particular form at this stage, then it will not be open to us to negotiate the best possible deal."

She added: "What matters is that we have the maximum possible ability to trade with and operate within the single European market and to do that across both goods and services."