Our withdrawal from the European Union is the biggest challenge that we face and it is vital that we get a deal that works for all parts of the country, protecting jobs, living standards and people’s rights.
However, there are clear divisions within the Government on how to approach this challenge. I believe we started negotiations with the EU from the worst possible basis following the General Election, with the Prime Minister’s approach having served to weaken our relations with the EU, alienate our allies and leave Britain short of goodwill across Europe.
We must seek to build a new and strong relationship with the EU – not as members, but as partners – and Parliament must be involved in that process. The Brexit negotiations must aim for a deal that ensures a cooperative, collaborative new partnership. It must ensure continued cooperation in areas where we both benefit – from counter-terrorism and higher education, to culture and climate change. It must also be one that that puts jobs, the economy and living standards first, and I strongly believe that retaining the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union is vital to this – meaning tariff-free access to the Single Market, no new red tape at customs and a deal that works for services as well as goods.
How we achieve that should be part of the negotiations and will require us to be flexible in our approach, not sweeping options off the table, and I have long believed that the Government should commit to appropriate transitional arrangements. Indeed, if jobs and the economy are to come first, there can be no threat of a cliff-edge for businesses after we leave the EU. This is also why the Government should rule out “no deal” as a viable option. To achieve no deal with the EU would be the worst of all deals, leaving us with World Trade Organisation tariffs and restrictions instead of the access to European markets that we need.
This is a matter of national interest and I can assure you that I will be following developments very closely.