May says 2018 Brexit progress will renew British pride

London (AFP) –


Prime Minister Theresa May said 2018 would be a year of "renewed confidence and pride" for Britain as it confronts the challenges of negotiating Brexit, in her New Year message out Sunday.

Divorce talks between London and Brussels are set to move on to transition arrangements, trade and security next year as Britain prepares to leave the European Union in March 2019.

May said 2017 had been a year of progress for Britain as it struck agreement on its departure bill, Northern Ireland and the rights of EU citizens, in the first phase of Brexit negotiations.

"I believe 2018 can be a year of renewed confidence and pride in our country," the premier said.

"A year in which we continue to make good progress towards a successful Brexit deal, an economy that's fit for the future, and a stronger and fairer society for everyone.

"And whatever challenges we may face, I know we will overcome them by standing united as one proud union of nations and people."

However, the British Chambers of Commerce, which represents thousands of firms across the country, warned that business was losing patience waiting for clarity on what will happen once Britain leaves the EU.

"That patience is now wearing thin. Businesses want answers," director general Adam Marshall told The Observer newspaper.

"Getting the twin challenges of Brexit and the economic fundamentals right will require leadership, consistency and clarity -- after a year in which business has been dismayed by what it sees as division and disorganisation."

- Vow on harassment, prejudice -

May said 2017 had been a year of progress in which her Brexit objectives had been pursued with a steady purpose

"Making a success of Brexit is crucial, but it will not be the limit of our ambitions," she said.

May said she wanted a "balanced approach" to public spending, reducing Britain's debt pile while investing in schools, hospitals and state healthcare.

May said she wanted to sweep harassment from the workplace and "eliminate all prejudice and discrimination from our society".

Internationally, she said Britain would work to tackle extremism, climate change and plastic waste in the oceans.

Meanwhile opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the prospect of a "new Britain" was "closer than ever before".

"We are a government in waiting, while the Conservatives are weak and divided and stuck in an outdated rut," the veteran leftist said.

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable used his new year message to push for a second referendum on EU membership.

"There's still time to offer people the choice of an exit from Brexit," he said.