PM vows her hands will not be tied over post-Brexit negotiations


Theresa May has vowed she will not allow her hands to be tied in negotiating a post-Brexit future for Britain, as she travelled to India on a mission to lay the groundwork for an "ambitious" trade deal.

In an indication that she will not allow the UK's preparations to be held back by EU rules blocking members from striking bilateral deals, Mrs May intends to use the three-day trip to seek official-level talks to pave the way for a post-Brexit free trade agreement, as well as moves to break down existing barriers to commerce and investment.

On her first trade mission as PM, Mrs May was joined by representatives of 33 companies from around the UK in an effort to "reboot an age-old relationship (with India) in this age of opportunity".

Officials said the trip would see commercial deals sealed to create 1,370 jobs in the UK, as well as the establishment of a new UK-India "smart cities" urban partnership with the potential to unlock opportunities worth £2 billion.

Following the setback of last week's High Court ruling that she must seek Parliament's approval to trigger talks to withdraw from the EU, Mrs May issued a warning to Remain-backing MPs and peers that they must "accept what the people decided" rather than try to block Brexit.

And she indicated she remains determined to resist demands from Labour and other parties to spell out her negotiating strategy for withdrawal talks under Article 50 of the EU treaties, insisting that "putting all our cards on the table" was "not in our national interest".

The trip comes as the Government prepares to appeal against the judges' decision in the Supreme Court in a bid to preserve Mrs May's chances of hitting her target of triggering Article 50 by the end of March.

The PM will hold more than two hours of talks with her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, as well as meeting business leaders in the capital New Delhi and southern commercial hub Bangalore.

Speaking ahead of her departure, Mrs May said: "While others seek to tie our negotiating hands, the Government will get on with the job of delivering the decision of the British people.

"It was MPs who overwhelmingly decided to put the decision in their hands. The result was clear. It was legitimate. MPs and peers who regret the referendum result need to accept what the people decided.

"And now we need to turn our minds to how we get the best outcome for our country. That means sticking to our plan and timetable, getting on with the work of developing our negotiating strategy and not putting all our cards on the table - that is not in our national interest and it won't help us get the best deal for Britain."

Britain and India were "natural partners" with shared interests in delivering jobs, developing new technologies and tackling terrorism and climate change, said Mrs May.

"This is a partnership about our shared security and shared prosperity," she said.

"It is a partnership of potential. And on this visit I intend to harness that potential, rebooting an age-old relationship in this age of opportunity and with that helping to build a better Britain."

Mrs May is likely to face pressure from her hosts about the availability of UK visas for Indian workers and students, amid unease over higher salary thresholds for skilled workers announced by the Home Office just days before her arrival as part of ongoing efforts to reduce non-EU migration.

Indian tech body Nasscom has called for a high-skilled worker mobility agreement with Britain, warning: "A system that restricts the UK's ability to access talent is also likely to restrict the growth and productivity of the UK economy."

Meanwhile, the head of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci), A Didar Singh, warned that UK-Indian trade faces a "double hit".

"Exports from the UK to India have been declining," Mr Singh told The Guardian.

"Now, exports from India to the UK will also decline because you've lost 18% of your pound's value. So if I'm sending something to the UK and getting a lower return on it, I'm going to have a think about that. It's a double hit."

Among deals expected to be confirmed during the visit are:

:: A £1.2 million joint venture between the Pandrol Group UK and Rahee Group in India to set up a manufacturing plant for rail projects;

:: A £15 million imaging and diagnostic centre in Chennai by Lyca Health UK; and

:: A £350 million investment from British start-up Kloudpad in high-tech electronics manufacturing in Kochi.

Both governments are also due to sign an intellectual property co-operation agreement, while the UK will commit to extending assistance to help India improve its business environment, which has seen it languish in 130th place in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business index.

Joining Mrs May on her visit were International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, trade minister Greg Hands, as well as business figures including Standard Life chairman Sir Gerry Grimstone, Standard Chartered chairman Sir John Peace, Diageo chief executive Ivan Menezes and Aviva CEO David McMillan, as well as a number of small businesses.

Mrs May is also due to pay her respects at the Raj Ghat memorial to Mahatma Gandhi during her stay in New Delhi.