Theresa May criticised for 'reckless' attitude to Brexit after New Year interview

PM accused of offering no clarity on what Brexit will mean as date to trigger Article 50 looms closer

Rachel Roberts
Sunday 08 January 2017 20:51
Labour's shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said the Prime Minister offered "nothing new" on Brexit during her much anticipated TV interview
Labour's shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said the Prime Minister offered "nothing new" on Brexit during her much anticipated TV interview

Theresa May has been accused of formulating "reckless" plans that will push the UK towards a disastrous Brexit.

Opposition MPs were less than impressed with what they saw as the lack of “anything new” from Ms May's highly anticipated New Year TV interview.

Labour’s shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer criticised the apparent lack of detail and reliance on sound bites from Ms May on the Government's plans for the UK's exit from the European Union.

He told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend: "I don't think the Prime Minister really gave us anything new and this is deeply concerning.

"We are now 10 to 11 weeks away from the triggering of Article 50 and we need clear negotiating objectives and we need a top negotiating team.

"What we got today were bits of half sentences that the Prime Minister has been using for the last six months."

In her first TV interview of the new year, Ms May denied there was any “muddled thinking” from the Government on Brexit and confirmed she intends to trigger Article 50 by the end of March.

Mr Starmer, who campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU, said the aim of negotiations with Brussels should be to secure the "fullest possible access" for the UK to the single market.

He said: "Of course there has to be change to the rules of freedom of movement. That was one of the main issues in the referendum.

"But the question for the Prime Minister is: are you putting such a priority on immigration that you are prepared to do real damage to your economy?”

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron called Ms May’s plans “reckless” following this morning’s interview on Sky TV with Sophy Ridge.

He said: “Theresa May has confirmed she is taking us towards a disastrous hard Brexit that will leave our country poorer and more divided.

“Reckless plans to leave the single market would deal a huge blow to jobs, investment and the public finances, meaning less funding for services like the overstretched NHS.”

Tory MPs who campaigned to remain have also called for more detail to be given as a matter of urgency as the suggested date for triggering article 50 looms ever closer.

Anna Soubry, a pro-remain Conservative MP and supporter of the Open Britain campaign group, agrees with Mr Starmer and Mr Farron that the UK should remain in the single market.

She said: "The single market is the world's largest free trade area with one rule book, no tariffs and maximum freedom for our vital service sectors. There is no comparable alternative.

"No-one voted to be poorer, which would be the inevitable consequence if we were to leave the single market.

"The Government needs to set out more detail on how we will leave the EU and what our long-term relationship will be. For the sake of jobs, growth and UK prosperity, that must mean being within the single market."

Theresa May denies 'muddled thinking' over Brexit

But pro-Brexit MPs seemed happier with the Prime Minister’s performance, seeing it as confirmation that the UK will be opting for a clean break from the EU.

Brexiteer Tory MP Steve Baker said: "This is welcome clarification of a sensible position by the PM. We won't be clinging on to bits of EU membership. The best outcome for the UK is an ambitious trade deal plus control over our laws, trade policy and borders. The PM's interview is great news for the UK.''

The Prime Minister used her first broadcast of the New Year to reiterate her belief that the trade versus immigration control issue is not a "binary" choice.

Ms May said: "Often people talk in terms as if somehow we are leaving the EU but we still want to kind of keep bits of membership of the EU.

"We are leaving. We are coming out. We are not going to be a member of the EU any longer.

"So the question is, what is the right relationship for the UK to have with the European Union when we are outside?”

And she insisted: "We will be able to have control of our borders, control of our laws.”

Ms May said she was concentrating on "not the means to the end but what the outcome is" as she looks ahead to negotiating the UK's divorce from Brussels.

She said: “Actually there will be a variety of ways in which we get there but people who simply talk about issues around membership of the single market, access to the single market, are looking at the means.

"I'm looking at the outcome."

Pressed for detail, the Prime Minister would only say she was aiming to deliver a "really good, ambitious trade deal" that allows UK companies to "trade in and operate in the European single market".

Ms May's latest comments on the Brexit negotiations come after reports that Sir Ivan Rogers criticised the Prime Minister's approach to Brexit with her predecessor weeks before he quit.

The diplomat, who unexpectedly resigned as the UK’s permanent representative in the EU in the new year, held talks with David Cameron before Christmas where he expressed concerns that the Prime Minister risked heading for a "disorderly" exit from the EU.

In a fiery message to staff announcing his resignation from the Brussels post, Sir Ivan hit out at the "ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking" of politicians and said civil servants still did not know the Government's plans for Brexit.

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