By Middleton Prince
Theresa May has claimed 2019 is the year “we can put our differences aside” over Brexit to allow the UK to “turn a corner”.
The prime minister used her New Year’s message to again make the case for her Brexit deal, which is set to finally be voted on by MPs within the next three weeks.
Downing Street has admitted “there is still work to do” for Mrs May to win fresh assurances from the EU over the terms of her agreement, as demanded by sceptical MPs.
The prime minister has spent her Christmas break holding talks with European leaders and will continue to be in contact in the lead-up to the House of Commons vote on her deal, scheduled for the week beginning 14 January.
As Britons welcomed in 2019, the year that the UK will formally leave the EU on 29 March, Mrs May said the country will “start a new chapter” in the next 12 months.
Promoting her EU exit agreement as delivering on the result of the 2016 referendum, Mrs May said in a New Year’s Day video message: “In the next few weeks MPs will have an important decision to make. If parliament backs the 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.”
Mrs May’s success or failure in getting MPs to back her Brexit deal over the next few weeks could likely determine her own political future.
But the prime minister, who survived a confidence vote among Conservative MPs as 2018 drew to a close, insisted Brexit “is not the only issue that counts”.
“When each of us looks back on 2019, it will be the personal milestones that stand out,” Mrs May added.
“Starting a new school, college or apprenticeship. Getting a job, starting a business, earning a pay rise. Buying a house, getting married or starting a family.
“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.”
The prime minister continued: “Together I believe we can start a new chapter with optimism and hope.
“We have all we need to thrive and, if we come together in 2019, I know we can make a success of what lies ahead and build a country that truly works for every one of us.”
In his own New Year message, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – who opposes Mrs May’s EU agreement – claimed the Tories had “plunged the country into crisis over the complete mess they’ve made of Brexit”.
He accused the prime minister of “trying to drive through a bad deal and letting people down all across the country whether they voted Leave or Remain”.F
“Eight years of damaging Tory failure has left us with a divided country where millions are struggling to make ends meet, where so many can’t afford a home to call their own, where older people are deprived of the dignity they deserve and far too many are working in low paid and insecure jobs,” Mr Corbyn added.
“We cannot go on like this. Labour is ready to deliver a radical alternative to rebuild and transform our country.”
Meanwhile, Scottish first minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon vowed to protect Scotland’s place in heart of Europe in 2019.
“Our reputation for being an open, warm-hearted, hospitable country has never been more important,” she said.
“I want to make that especially clear to the hundreds of thousands of nationals from other EU countries, who have done us the honour of choosing Scotland as their home.”
DUP leader Arlene Foster, who is also opposed to Mrs May’s Brexit deal despite her party being allied to the Tory government at Westminster, vowed to “ensure the right decisions are made” in 2019.
She warned Mrs May to present legally “watertight” agreement in the New Year that does not “undermine the economic or constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom single market”.
Mrs Foster also promised her party would work towards restoring a power-sharing government in Belfast.