Not making that point, but making a rather more pertinent one, which was that we did not have the opportunity at all to interrogate Mr Tony Blair after he had been on the radio and television. But today is a parliamentary day and I wish to share with Parliament what I think are some important points.
I would like to update the House on the Government’s plans for exiting the European Union. Today, the Prime Minister is setting out a plan for Britain. It is a plan to ensure that we embrace this moment of change to build a confident, global trading nation that seizes the new opportunities before it, and a fairer, stronger society at home, embracing bold economic and social reform. It is a plan that recognises that the referendum vote was not one to pull up drawbridges and retreat from the world, but rather a vote of confidence in the UK’s ability to prosper and succeed.
It is a plan to build a strong, new partnership with our European partners while reaching beyond the borders of Europe, too, forging deeper links with old allies and new ones. Today we set out 12 objectives for the negotiation to come. They answer the questions of those who have been asking what we intend while not undermining the UK’s negotiating position. We are clear that what we seek is that new partnership: not partial EU membership, not a model adopted by other countries, not a position that means we are half-in, half-out. Let me address each of our aims in turn.
First, we will provide certainty wherever possible while recognising that we are about to enter a two-sided negotiation. We have already made announcements about agriculture payments and student funding. Our proposal to shift the acquis—the body of EU law—into UK law at the point of exit is designed to make the process as smooth as possible. At the point of exit, the same rules and laws will apply, and it will then be for this Parliament to determine changes in the country’s interests, for we also intend to take control of our own laws and end the authority of the European Court of Justice in the UK. Laws will be made in this Parliament, and in the devolved Assemblies, and interpreted by our judges, not those in Luxembourg.
We will aim to strengthen the Union between our four nations. We will continue to engage with the devolved Administrations, and we will ensure that as powers are returned from Brussels to the UK, the right powers come to Westminster and the right powers are passed to Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. Another key objective will be to maintain the common travel area between the UK and the Republic of Ireland. No one wants to see a return to the borders of the past.
In terms of immigration, we will remain an open, tolerant nation. We will continue to welcome the brightest and the best, and to ensure that immigration continues to bring benefits in terms of addressing skills shortages where they exist, but we will manage our immigration system properly, which means that free movement to the UK from the European Union cannot continue as before. We want to guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are already in this country and already make such a great contribution to our society, in tandem with similar protections for the rights of UK citizens in EU countries. We would like to resolve that issue at the earliest possible moment.
UK law already goes further in many areas than EU minimums, but as we shift the body of EU law into UK law we will ensure that workers’ rights are not just protected but enhanced. In terms of trade, we want to build a more open, outward-looking, confident nation that is a global champion for free trade. Membership of the EU’s internal market means accepting its four freedoms, in terms of the movement of goods, services, capital and people, and complying with the EU’s rules and regulations. That would, effectively, mean not leaving the EU at all, so we do not propose to maintain membership of the EU’s single market. Instead, we will seek the broadest possible access to it through a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU. We want it to cover goods and services and to be as ambitious as possible.
This is not a zero-sum game. It should be in the interest of both the UK and the EU. It is in all our interests that financial services continue to be provided freely across borders, that integrated supply chains are not disrupted and that trade continues in as barrier-free a way as possible. Although we will seek the most open possible market with the European Union, we also want to further trade links with the rest of the world, so we will deliver the freedom for the UK to strike trade agreements with other countries. The Department for International Trade has already started to prepare the ground and it is clear there is enormous interest around the globe in forging new links with the UK.
Full membership of the EU’s customs union would prohibit new international deals, so we do not intend to remain part of the common commercial policy or to be bound by the common external tariff. Instead, we will seek a customs agreement with the EU with the aim of ensuring that cross-border trade remains as barrier-free as possible. Clearly, how that is achieved is a matter for negotiation.
The UK is one of the best places in the world for science and innovation, with some of the best universities in the world, so we must continue to collaborate with our European allies. When it comes to crime, terrorism and security, we will aim to further co-operation with EU countries. We will seek practical arrangements in these areas to ensure that we keep our continent secure and defend our shared values.
Finally, in terms of our exit, we have said repeatedly that it will be in no one’s interests for it to be disorderly, with any sort of “cliff edge”—the words used by the Opposition—as we leave the European Union. We intend to reach broad agreement about the terms of our new partnership with the EU by the end of the two-year negotiation triggered by article 50, but then we will aim to deliver an orderly process of implementation. That does not mean an unlimited transitional period where the destination is not clear, but time for both the UK and EU member states to prepare for new arrangements, whether that be in terms of customs arrangements, the regulation of financial services, co-operation over criminal justice, or immigration controls.
Those are the aims and objectives we set today for the negotiation to come. Our objectives are clear: to deliver certainty and clarity wherever we can; to take control of our own laws; to protect and strengthen the Union; to maintain the common travel area with the Republic of Ireland; to control immigration; to protect the rights of EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU; to protect workers’ rights; to allow free trade with European markets; to forge new trade deals with other countries; to boost science and innovation; to protect and enhance co-operation over crime, terrorism and security; and to make our exit smooth and orderly. That is the outline of an ambitious new partnership between the UK and the countries of the EU.
We are under no illusions: agreeing terms that work for both the UK and the 27 nations of the European Union will be challenging, and no doubt there will be bumps on the road once talks begin. We must embark on the negotiation, however, clear that no deal is better than a bad deal. As the Prime Minister has made clear today, the UK could not accept a punitive approach, so let me be clear that we do not expect that outcome.
We are confident that if we approach the talks in a spirit of good will, we can deliver a positive deal that works for the mutual benefit of all. It is absolutely in our interests that the EU succeeds, and it is absolutely in the EU’s interests that we succeed too. That will be one of our central messages: we do not want the European Union to fail; we want it to prosper politically and economically, and we will seek to convince our allies that a strong new partnership with the UK will help it to do that.
Our approach is not about cherry-picking; it is about reaching a deal that fits the aims of both sides. We understand that the EU wants to preserve its four freedoms and chart its own course. That is not a project that the UK will now be a part of, so we will leave the single market and the institutions of the European Union. We will make our own laws and decisions about immigration. Let me be crystal clear, if there has been any doubt: the final deal agreed between the UK and the EU will be put to a vote in both Houses of Parliament before it takes effect.
To conclude, we are leaving the European Union but we are not leaving Europe. We will continue to be reliable partners, willing allies and close friends with our European neighbours. We will be ready for any outcome, but we anticipate success, not failure. The UK will embrace its new place in the world with optimism, strength and confidence.