Theresa May has pledged to keep the UK “strong and united” after Brexit as she marks a year to go until the UK’s departure from the European Union.
The PM is visiting England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, appealing to those for and against Brexit. There are just months left to strike a deal on the future UK-EU relationship. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair said it was “more likely… than a few months ago” that Brexit could be stopped, saying it was “not too late”. Mr Blair, a strong backer of UK membership of the EU, told BBC Radio 4’s Today the “sensible” option was to “take a final decision” once the terms of the deal have been set out. On 29 March 2019, the UK will formally leave the EU and is due to enter a 21-month transition period during which much of the current arrangements continue, before the final permanent post-membership relationship is due to kick-in. Since formal negotiations began between the two sides last June, an agreement has been struck on a Brexit “divorce bill” – but the crucial issue of how they will trade together in the longer term has yet to be settled. At some stage – most likely in October – the PM will put an outline of the Brexit deal to Parliament. On Wednesday, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry faced criticism from within her own party for saying Labour MPs would probably approve the government’s “blah, blah, blah” deal that would pass Labour’s six tests – which include maintaining the benefits of the single market and customs union. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell defended Ms Thornberry’s comments, emphasising her “sarcasm” in response to a journalist’s question. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the tests were “nowhere near being met” and insisted Labour would not vote for the deal unless “the government are sensible and they negotiate properly… [so we can] get a deal that meets the six tests”
Mrs May began her tour by visiting a textile factory in Ayrshire with other stops at a parent and toddler group in Newcastle, lunch with farmers near Belfast before meeting businesses in Barry, south Wales. Speaking ahead of her trip, Mrs May vowed to regain control of “our laws, our borders and our money” and that the UK will “thrive as a strong and united country that works for everyone, no matter whether you voted Leave or Remain”. The prime minister has been accused of a power grab by the Scottish and Welsh governments over plans to repatriate some powers from Brussels to Westminster rather than to the devolved administrations. She insisted each of the devolved administrations would see “an increase in their decision-making powers” and that her government remained “absolutely committed” to the devolution settlements.