The Prime Minister has now officially informed the President of the European Council that the UK intends to leave the EU, signalling the start of the most complex and important set of negotiations undertaken by any British Government since the end of World War II.
At a moment of this magnitude it is essential that our response reflects core British values which are rooted in the everyday life of communities in Darlington and up and down the country.
My colleague and Shadow Brexit Minister, Keir Starmer recently set out 6 tests against which we will judge the deal negotiated by Theresa May over the next 2 years.
In this monthly column, I will spell out each of these tests in detail, starting this month with our first key test which is whether Theresa May’s deal ensures ‘a strong and collaborative future relationship with the EU?’
This matters for the UK and it matters to the EU, who are looking to us as natural allies in the context of increasingly volatile global politics.
But there is a worrying groundswell on the Government benches to sever our links and turn our backs on Europe entirely. This sort of approach to Brexit would be disastrous and would obstruct continued continental cooperation in important fields such as medicine, security and significantly, trade.
For all the grandstanding about trade deals in new markets, the nature and strength of any future EU-UK trade deal has to be the Government’s priority. Just look at the figures - we export more to Ireland than we do to China, twice as much to Belgium as we do to India, and three times as much to Sweden as we do to Brazil. Assuming we can just conjure up new markets to replace these relationships with our European partners is just not realistic.
That said, we do all accept that Britain should be an outward looking, global trading nation but in terms of jobs and the future of our economy, the trade deal that matters most is the one we eventually reach with the EU.
We must press the Government to secure continued tariff-free trade for UK businesses with the EU. Whilst I acknowledge that retaining Single Market membership as a non-EU country will be challenging, it is the overriding priority put forward by the hundreds of businesses and trade union members we have consulted in recent months and must be the Prime Minister’s priority.
How these objectives are reached is frankly secondary to the outcome - what matters most to me is that jobs, the economy and living standards do not suffer in Darlington as a result of Brexit.