Tees Valley Labour MPs Anna Turley and Phil Wilson argue that leaving the EU is so complex, we will need extra time

DOES the Government, like Baldrick in Blackadder, have a “cunning plan” for Brexit?

If it does, it’s about time it shared it. We don’t need to know every detail, but businesses and the public, whose profits, public services and pockets depend upon the success of these negotiations, need something to go on. The Tories can keep the cunning bit to themselves for the time being, but people need to know: is the Government about to drive the country off a cliff? Or does it know the road to the Land of Milk and Honey and is just not telling us?

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We leave the EU in March 2019. That’s 18 months from now. Business can’t wait that long. They need to make their decisions on future investment. They need certainty about the kind of world we will be entering.

As MPs, we both wanted to Remain in the EU. Our constituencies voted to leave. We respect their decisions and voted accordingly in Parliament in favour of Article 50 which triggered the Brexit negotiations.

However, after a General Election in which Theresa May gambled everything and walked away from the poker table with nothing to cash in, her mandate for a “no deal is better than a bad deal” Brexit has disappeared. And Europe sees that her authority and her negotiating power has badly diminished.

We therefore believe now is the time to take stock of leaving the EU, which is the greatest challenge facing the UK since the Second World War.

Not a day goes by without the further complexities and uncertainties of the Brexit negotiations being aired by commentators, industry and, dare we say it, experts, in a way that was not achieved during last year’s referendum.

An example of these newly-emerging complexities is that we now realise that to leave the EU means to leave the obscure Euratom Treaty which would impact upon the supply of medical isotopes used in cancer treatment. We also now hear the pharmaceutical industry warning that life-saving medicines transported between the UK and other EU countries could be disrupted because of border checks if we are not in the EU or customs union. And budget airlines such as Easyjet and RyanAir will need to move to the EU once we leave if there is no replacement for the EU Open Skies Agreement.

These are just three of the many complexities which will have to be sorted out in the next 18 months.

And then there are the uncertainties. Because business doesn’t know what future Brexit holds, investment in the UK car industry has fallen dramatically, down by more than £322m in the first half of 2017. The Office for Budget Responsibility, the Government’s financial watchdog, has predicted a £36bn black hole in the country’s finances because of Brexit. The head of the National Audit Office has said the Government’s Brexit strategy could fall apart “like a chocolate orange”. Even Dominic Cummings, little known to the public but the mastermind behind the Leave campaign, has said the referendum was a “dumb idea” and leaving could “be an error”. What a ringing endorsement from an arch-Brexiteer!

So where does all of this leave us?

In our view, the Government should negotiate extra time to leave the EU, or a transitional period so that all the complexities can be ironed out, if ever they can be, helping to ensure the UK economy doesn’t suffer because no trade deal is in place.

This is of primary importance when 60 per cent of the North-East’s trade is with the EU – the highest rate in the country – providing tens of thousands of jobs. People did not vote Leave to make themselves poorer or to lose their jobs.

We also believe the best trade deal is provided through membership of the European Single Market. The UK does not need to be a member of the EU to be in the Single Market and it would be a bizarre act of self-harm to give up access to the world’s richest trading area.

Membership of the Customs Union in Europe is also essential, ensuring goods are transferred between member states without tariffs and bureaucracy which would lead to long queues of traffic at borders, disrupting business and putting up costs to consumers.

We understand immigration played a big part in the decision to leave the EU, especially for people in the North-East. Free movement of people across the EU should now be seriously considered as a key part of the negotiations, because it is an issue for all member states.

But we also know the Government already fails to implement existing restrictions on free movement and could do more to protect people working in industries like construction by preventing companies undercutting national rates or setting up dodgy agencies to recruit cheap labour from overseas. This is a role for the British government – not the EU.

Considering the UK already has the power to control immigration from countries that account for 90 per cent of the world's population, we need a fair immigration system that allows companies, including those in the North-East, to compete for global talent without harming local opportunity.

The road to Brexit is complex, uncertain and fraught with difficulty. The Government doesn’t seem to have discovered a way forward which is either cunning or planned. Baldrick would be disappointed.

Anna Turley is the MP for Redcar and Phil Wilson is the MP for Sedgefield