THE North-East will continue to be the “laboratory for the world” after Britain leaves the European Union, a government minister has claimed.

Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said he was "optimistic" about the deal the UK will agree with the EU, and was confident the Tees Valley will be one of the "strongest places in the world" for industry.

Mr Clark was speaking at the Prosperity North-East Conference which was held at Teesside University yesterday and saw a number of business figures gather to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing the region after Brexit, specifically in the clean energy, bioscience, advanced manufacturing and digital sectors.

Speaking exclusively to The Northern Echo, Mr Clark defended the government's handling of the Brexit negotiations and said he was confident the Tees Valley would "thrive" whatever deal was agreed.

“Once the referendum result came in, the one thing everyone was certain about was there would be a period of uncertainty as we move through the negotiations, and they are coming to their conclusion now," he said.

“The uncertainty hasn’t got much longer to run, but I can’t pretend until you know the deal is done, there won’t be some uncertainty there.

“The negotiations were always going to be two years as that is what Article 50 dictates. It is as you approach the end of the negotiations, they start to be resolved and agreed, therefore I don’t think this is unpredictable."

Mr Clark said it was important that business had "as much certainty as possible", but said certainty of a good deal was important than a short-term fix.

“I have worked very closely with businesses up and down the country to make sure what they need from the deal is what is delivered," he said.

“We are focused on getting a good deal for Britain and that means a good deal for business and the people who are employed, and I am optimistic about the deal we will get.

“Whatever the outcome of Brexit, the whole of the world is undergoing revolutions as profound as the industrial revolution, and as it happens, the UK and the North-East in particular, will be one of the strongest places in the world.

“These are the industries of the future and they are all big in the Tees Valley."

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said he remained "committed" to making sure that Brexit works in the best interests of the region.