The UK can “turn a corner” and leave political differences in the past if MPs back the proposed Brexit deal, Theresa May has said in her New Year message.
The Prime Minister appealed to parliamentarians not to block her Brexit deal when it is finally voted on by the Commons in the third week of January, saying there were other issues that needed the attention of MPs and government.
Downing Street revealed Mrs May spoke with European leaders over Christmas as part of continuing efforts to seek new assurances over the controversial Irish border backstop.
But with just nine days before the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal returns to the Commons for debate ahead of a vote that will shape the UK’s future, a Number 10 spokeswoman said “there is still more work to do”.
MPs are due to debate the Withdrawal Agreement hammered out with Brussels on 9 January before a “meaningful vote” the following week.
Having postponed the vote in December in the face of almost certain failure, Mrs May still has to win over critics in her own party if the deal is to pass the Commons this time.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said yesterday that while discussions between the UK and EU had continued, Mrs May was still working on getting the “legal and political assurances” required.
The spokeswoman also said the Prime Minister had “been in contact with European leaders and that will continue in the lead up to the vote”.
She added: “Her focus is certainly on getting the assurances that MPs want ahead of that vote taking place. There is still work to do and talks will continue.”
In her message to the country for the coming year, Mrs May said: “New Year is a time to look ahead and in 2019 the UK will start a new chapter.
“The Brexit deal I have negotiated delivers on the vote of the British people and in the next few weeks MPs will have an important decision to make.
“If Parliament backs a deal, Britain can turn a corner.
“The referendum in 2016 was divisive but we all want the best for our country and 2019 can be the year we put our differences aside and move forward together, into a strong new relationship with our European neighbours and out into the world as a globally trading nation.”
She added: “Important though Brexit is, it is not the only issue that counts. When each of us looks back on 2019, it will be the personal milestones that stand out.
“These are the things that matter most and by agreeing a good Brexit deal, we can focus our energy on those things – strengthening our economy and opening up new markets for our businesses to create new jobs and opportunities across the UK; building the housing our country needs so everyone can have a home of their own and transforming technical education so everyone gains the skills they need to get on.”
Mrs May’s appeal was echoed by the Federation of Small Businesses. Its national chairman, Mike Cherry, called on political leaders to “stop spending so much time on political infighting at the expense of the domestic agenda”.
DUP leader Arlene Foster used her New Year message to warn Mrs May she will need to make significant changes to her Withdrawal Agreement if the Northern Irish party are to back it.
Mrs Foster, whose party is in a confidence and supply arrangement with the Conservative government, said: “The Prime Minister has promised to get changes to the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement.
“We will be holding her to that commitment and we will work with the government to achieve a better deal.
“We are very mindful that any deal will bind the hands of future governments and prime ministers, therefore the legal text must be watertight for the United Kingdom.”