North East business chiefs and a Wearside MP have cautiously welcomed Prime Minister Theresa May’s 12-point plan for Britain’s withdrawl from the European Union.
Mrs May warned fellow EU nations that she is ready to walk away from Brexit talks rather than accept a “punitive” deal.
In a speech setting out her 12 key objectives for EU withdrawal, Mrs May announced that Britain will leave the European single market but seek a “bold and ambitious” free trade agreement to allow it to continue trading with its 27 former partners.
Mrs May confirmed she wants to take Britain out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
She also gave her strongest hint yet that the UK could leave the European customs union (CU), stating that she wanted to ensure “frictionless” cross-border trade but had an “open mind” on whether that should be done through associate membership of the CU or a customs agreement.
She announced that MPs and peers will be given a vote on the final deal reached with the EU.
She did not make clear whether a vote against any agreement would mean the UK staying in the EU or crashing out without a deal.
But she warned: “I know there are some voices calling for a punitive deal that punishes Britain and discourages other countries from taking the same path.
“That would be an act of calamitous self-harm for the countries of Europe.”
Jonathan Walker, head of policy at the North East England Chamber of Commerce said Mrs May will be judged on the final outcome of whatever deal is agreed.
He said: “We have known for some time that remaining a member of the single market and the Government’s commitment to restricting free movement would be incompatible.
“In light of this, today’s speech certainly touched on some of the issues that matter most to our businesses, but ultimately the PM will be judged on the outcome of the negotiations rather than the content of a speech.”
He added: “Our firms need un-bureaucratic and low cost access to the European market, support to grow their international presence and a migration system that allows our region to retain and compete for highly skilled overseas talent.
Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West, said: “Finally the Prime Minister has given us more detail about the direction she will be taking as we leave the EU.
“Yet, she cannot be let off the hook now when important detail is missing, including on workers’ rights and our future trading relationship with the EU and the rest of the world.”
Mrs Hodgson’s Labour colleague Julie Elliott said: “In the run up to the referendum, Leave campaigners dismissed economic warnings as scaremongering and promised that the UK would remain part of a free trade area, this indicated membership of the Single Market.
“At the time, Theresa May herself said that remaining in the Single Market was the best option for growth and jobs in our country.
“Taking Britain out of the Single Market is self-harm, not statesmanship - people did not vote Leave to become poorer.”