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British Ambassador To U.S. Responds To Brexit Plan

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

British Prime Minister Theresa May clarified what the U.K. seeks in leaving the European Union this week - not some half-in, half-out special status, but a clean break.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

THERESA MAY: We do not seek to hold on to bits of membership as we leave. No, the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union, and my job is to get the right deal for Britain as we do.

SIEGEL: In a speech, Prime Minister May made it clear that Britain has no intention of remaining in the European single market after it leaves the EU. For more on the state of Britain's exit from the European Union, we're joined now by the United Kingdom's ambassador to the U.S., Kim Darroch. Welcome to the program.

KIM DARROCH: Thank you very much for inviting me.

SIEGEL: Donald Trump has promised to move quickly on a trade agreement with the U.K. since U.S. agreements with the EU wouldn't cover Britain once it's out of the European Union. How can Washington reach trade terms with your country without knowing what access American firms in the U.K. would have to the European Union?

DARROCH: Look, under the EU treaties, which we are currently part of, you can't no-go and conclude a trade deal with a third country because trade rests with the central authorities in the EU, with the European Commission. But what the incoming administration has said about their enthusiasm for a free trade deal with us is extremely welcome. And I think that there is quite a lot we can do in terms of exploring the scope of and nature of a deal with them while we are negotiating our departure from the European Union, which will start from the end of March.

SIEGEL: Simultaneously, you would negotiate an exit from Europe and at the same time be negotiating with the U.S. in terms of a trade agreement...

DARROCH: Well, what you call negotiations or exploratory talks or scoping discussions is all still to be worked out. But there's nothing to stop us having informal conversations with our American friends while we're negotiating the terms of our exit. And certainly the sooner we can establish a free trade deal after we leave, the better.

SIEGEL: Nicola Sturgeon, who leads both the Scottish National Party and Scotland's regional government, told the BBC that Brexit makes another vote on Scottish independence all but inevitable. In Scotland, the vote to remain in the EU was 62 percent. Can you sympathize with the Scottish voter who said the last time we had a referendum it was on remaining in the U.K. as a member of the European Union, everything's totally different now?

DARROCH: Well, first of all, we've not started the negotiations with the European Union. Let's see how those go. Second...

SIEGEL: Do you think you could negotiate a special status for Scotland within the new agreement?

DARROCH: I - we're not in that area at moment. The idea is that we negotiate a deal for the whole of the United Kingdom that that suits the United Kingdom as a whole. We've had a referendum on Scottish independence, and there was a clear outcome from that in favor of continuation of the union. It was agreed by both sides, by all parties, that that was a once-in-a-generation, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so that's done now...

SIEGEL: He said - I think Nicola Sturgeon said barring some major changing development, and this would be exactly the kind of development she was talking about.

DARROCH: The prime minister and the government have said that we will associate all the devolved administrations very closely, including some formal structures with the negotiations on exit, and we intend to find a solution that everyone can live with.

SIEGEL: Like everyone else in Washington, you have heard Donald Trump's nominees for various key Cabinet positions express strong support of NATO and suspicions of Russian activities in eastern Ukraine. And we've also heard Mr. Trump express more positive sentiments about Russia. When you report back to your government, which way do you tell them the United States is going after tomorrow's inauguration? What sense do you make of things?

DARROCH: We have, as you say, followed the confirmation hearings of the nominees for Cabinet positions and, of course, all of the pronouncements that have come out of the incoming administration. We think that a strong dialogue, good, operational, open channels between Moscow and Washington - between the White House and the Kremlin - are important. We also think that it's important that they are used for clear messages to the Kremlin about the unacceptability of Russian actions in Syria, about the unacceptability of they're doing in Ukraine. What we've heard from the hearings, from what nominees like General Mattis and Rex Tillerson have said suggests they completely agree with that approach.

SIEGEL: Kim Darroch, British ambassador to the United States. Thank you.

DARROCH: Thank you for the opportunity. It was a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.