January 1, 2017 / 1:11 PM / a year ago

Britain's May calls for unity in 2017 after divisive Brexit vote

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Theresa May pledged in a New Year message on Sunday to seek a Brexit deal that would work for all Britons, not just those who voted to leave the European Union in a referendum she said had laid bare the nation’s divisions.

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at the annual Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, Britain, October 2, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo - RTX2W4EJ

Britons voted by 52 to 48 percent last June to leave the EU and the tone of the public debate about what Brexit should look like has remained acrimonious.

May said in her televised message that, despite the divisions, Britons shared a desire to live in a stronger, fairer and more secure country.

“These ambitions unite us, so that we are no longer the 52 percent who voted Leave and the 48 percent who voted Remain, but one great union of people and nations with a proud history and a bright future,” said May.

“So when I sit around the negotiating table in Europe this year, it will be with that in mind – the knowledge that I am there to get the right deal, not just for those who voted to leave but for every single person in this country.”

May has pledged to trigger Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, the formal step that will launch negotiations on the terms of Britain’s exit, by the end of March.

The Brexit process will take years and May has given few details about what deal she will be seeking from the remaining 27 EU members.

May became prime minister and leader of the ruling Conservative Party in July after her predecessor David Cameron resigned following the referendum. Both he and May had backed the ‘Remain’ side.

“PRECIOUS UNION”

In her New Year message, May also referred to the “precious union” between the United Kingdom’s four constituent parts, which is under strain since England and Wales voted to leave the EU while Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she will do everything she can to ensure the will of the Scottish people is respected and she has raised the possibility of a future referendum on independence from the UK.

In her own New Year message, Sturgeon said: “We are determined that Scotland’s vote to remain in the European Union will be respected and that people in Scotland retain as many of the benefits of EU membership as possible, including the freedom to work, travel and study in other member states.”

Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Gareth Jones

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