British PM gears up in lead-up to Brexit

Robert Weighton

May visited a cashmere factory in Scotland, a school in the north-east of England, a farm in Northern Ireland and was to due to end her tour in a Welsh valley and then west London later in the day.

Prime Minister Theresa May said: "Northern Ireland and the farming industry are integral parts of the United Kingdom's history, culture and, importantly, our future - which is why I'm here today to speak to farmers and hear their views".

The world's sixth-largest economy caused a major global shock in 2016 by narrowly voting to withdraw from the European Union after a fevered referendum campaign that sharpened regional divisions and exposed deep distrust between voters and the political establishment.

"I am determined that our future will be a bright one", May said ahead of Thursday's tour.

Speaking ahead of her trip, Mrs May said: 'Having regained control of our laws, our borders and our money, and seized the opportunities provided by Brexit, the UK will thrive as a strong and united country that works for everyone, no matter whether you voted Leave or Remain'. I want to see us coming together, the four nations across the United Kingdom.

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The Opposition Labour party has said that it would not vote for the Brexit deal unless "the government are sensible and they negotiate properly. get a deal that meets the six tests".

European Union Council president Donald Tusk has remarked that any trade deal with Britain would be the first in history to loosen economic links rather than strengthen them.

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There have been tensions between London and the devolved governments in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast over May's handling of the Brexit negotiations so far. But longer term forecasts show growth grinding lower over the next five years and lagging global rivals.

In Brussels, May's ministers have won little in the way of concessions from the European Union negotiating team, setting a hard tone for upcoming talks on long-term trading ties - particularly when it comes to the future of Britain's economic engine: its financial services sector. Britain and the European Union agreed on March 19 to a transition period of 21 months to give time for talks on future trade ties.

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During her visit to Bangor, Northern Ireland, on Thursday, she repeated her "commitment to avoid a hard border" between the United Kingdom region and the Republic of Ireland, and to "protect" the 1998 peace agreement.

Scotland and Wales last week backed bills to ensure that powers brought back from Brussels go to their capitals.

After starting her four-nation tour at a textile factory in Ayrshire, the PM said: "Let's be clear, there is no power-grab; we are not taking back any of the powers that are now devolved to the Scottish Government, indeed the Scottish Government will be receiving more powers as a result of us leaving the European Union".

Against that backdrop, May's tour is focussed on meeting a cross-section of voters to reassure them that she is working to tear down the barriers thrown up by the referendum, and that whether they voted "leave" or "remain", they will be better off after Brexit.

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