Hardliners give cautious welcome to May's Brexit vision

LONDON (Reuters) - The head of a hardline group of pro-Brexit lawmakers on Saturday gave a cautious welcome to Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans for Britain’s future ties with Europe, saying now was not the time to nitpick.

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May, battling to strike a deal with Europe that appeases both sides of her deeply divided party, used a speech in London on Friday to warn that the country needed to face up to some “hard facts” that “neither of us can have exactly what we want”.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of an influential group in May’s Conservative Party who has warned the government not to waver in its approach, congratulated May for taking a “sensible, pragmatic and generous approach to Brexit”.

“There are inevitably a few small points that will concern Leave campaigners but we must all recognise that everyone will have to give up something to get a deal, so now is not the time to nitpick,” he said.

Rees-Mogg told the BBC the issues he remained concerned about included how the fisheries industry would be treated and how British companies would liaise with European agencies.

With just over a year to go before Britain leaves the EU on March 29, 2019, May softened her tone and called on Europe to show flexibility to help solve some of the more difficult problems.

She said she hoped to secure a tailor-made free trade deal that would include financial services and said Britain would aim for associate membership of EU agencies covering chemicals, medicines and aerospace.

In order to smooth future trade ties, May said Britain would not pursue a race to the bottom on standards and instead seek the same regulatory outcomes. Were a future government to pursue an alternative path it would do so in the knowledge that there would be consequences for market access, she said.

While that was welcomed by business leaders who want to avoid delays at borders, it was greeted warily in Brussels where EU officials described some of the proposals as unrealistic.

Elmar Brok, a German member of the European Parliament, said: “It sounds like she wants to have membership of the internal market without fulfilling the obligations of that.”

Michel Barnier, the EU executive’s negotiator, welcomed May’s recognition that there would be “trade-offs” but made no comment on her belief that Britain could secure EU recognition of its own independent regulations in many areas.

Britain’s newspapers, as divided over Brexit as May’s party, welcomed May’s proposals as a way to return power to London without damaging trade from the world’s sixth biggest economy.

“For months, the Brexit hardliners have called the tune,” the Financial Times said. “Mrs May has stopped dancing.”

Editing by Janet Lawrence