Theresa May has said Britain can “set an example to the world” in the Brexit negotiations, as she reiterated her call to “get on with” the talks.
Facing MPs in the Commons, the Prime Minister said that while there would be “ups and downs” on the horizon, the Government would pay no heed to the “counsels of despair that this simply cannot be done”.
But the spectre of perhaps the thorniest issue in the negotiations – the future status of the Northern Ireland border – has reared its head once more.
Mrs May’s disclosure that Britain is looking at the customs arrangements between the US and Canada as a potential way of solving the border issue provoked raised eyebrows from some MPs.
When it was pointed out by shadow Brexit minister Jenny Chapman that there were “armed customs guards” at the US-Canada frontier, Mrs May said arrangements “in a number of countries” were being examined.
Irish PM Leo Varadkar – who earlier ruled out formal three-way border talks between the UK, Ireland and the EU – later said a US-Canada option would not be acceptable.
While Mr Varadkar said he did not want to comment directly because he had not heard Mrs May’s comments, he talked about his trip to the US-Canada border.
“I visited the US-Canada border, I visited it back in August, and I saw a hard border with physical infrastructure, with customs posts, people in uniforms with arms and dogs and that is definitely not a solution that is one that we can possibly entertain,” Mr Varadkar said.
Mrs May’s Commons address was the first time she had faced MPs since hitting back at the EU’s refusal to offer Britain a bespoke Brexit deal in a keynote speech on Friday.
In it, she stood firm in calling for a different relationship to that which Canada, Norway and Turkey have with the EU, declaring: “If this is cherry-picking, then every trade agreement is cherry-picking.”
Speaking in the Commons on Monday, Mrs May said: “We cannot escape the complexity of the task ahead.
“We must build a new and lasting relationship while preparing for every scenario.
“But with pragmatism, calm and patient discussion, I am confident we can set an example to the world.
“Yes, there will be ups and downs over the months ahead, but we will not be buffeted by the demands to talk tough or threaten or walk out – and we will not give in to the counsels of despair that this simply cannot be done, for this is in both the UK’s and EU’s interests.”
She added: “My message to our friends in Europe is clear: you asked us to set out what we want in more detail, we have done that; we have shown we understand your principles; we have a shared interest in getting this right, so let’s get on with it.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Mrs May’s Brexit speech had “barely papered over the cracks” within her party and accused the PM of presiding over “20 wasted months” since the June 2016 referendum.
He claimed bravado had given way to bickering, with the “arrogance” of some of her Cabinet ministers thinking that sorting out Brexit would be the “easiest deal in history” being replaced by “debilitating infighting”.
Responding, Mr Corbyn said his opposite number had still not got a grip on the Brexit negotiations.
“We’ve seen set-piece speech after set-piece speech and yet the Prime Minister still cannot bring clarity to these negotiations and still cannot bring certainty to British businesses or workers.
“The Prime Minister’s speech on Friday promised to unite the nation, but it barely papered over the cracks in her own party.”
Mr Corbyn said the Government had so far offered “no real solution” on Northern Ireland and had instead “rehashed an already discredited Government idea” to use a combination of technology and goodwill to ensure there is no hard border.
“We’ve had 20 months of promises, soundbites and confusion,” said Mr Corbyn, rounding off his attack.
“However people feel about Brexit, it’s clear to them this Government is nowhere near delivering a good deal for Britain.”