I became Prime Minister almost three years ago – immediately after the British people voted to leave the European Union.
My aim was — and is — to deliver Brexit and help our country move beyond the division of the referendum and into a better future. A country that works for everyone. Where everyone has the chance to get on in life and to go as far as their own talent and hard work can take them. That is a goal that I believe can still unite our country.
I knew that delivering Brexit was not going to be simple or straightforward. The result in 2016 was decisive, but it was close. The challenge of taking Brexit from the simplicity of the choice on the ballot paper to the complexity of resetting the country’s relationship with 27 of its nearest neighbours was always going to be huge.
While it has proved even harder than I anticipated, I continue to believe that the best way to make a success of Brexit is to negotiate a good exit deal with the EU as the basis of a new deep and special partnership for the future.
That was my pitch to be leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister. That is what I set out in my Lancaster House speech and that was what my Party’s election manifesto said in 2017. That is in essence what the Labour Party’s election manifesto stated too.
And over 80 per cent of the electorate backed parties which stood to deliver Brexit by leaving with a deal. We have worked hard to deliver that — but we have not yet managed it.
I have tried everything I possibly can to find a way through. It is true that initially I wanted to achieve this predominantly on the back of Conservative and DUP votes.
In our Parliamentary system, that is simply how you normally get things done. I sought the changes MPs demanded. I offered to give up the job I love earlier than I would like. And on March 29 — the day we were meant to leave the EU — if just 30 MPs had voted differently we would have passed the Withdrawal Agreement. And we would be leaving the EU.
But it was not enough. So I took the difficult decision to try to reach a cross-party deal on Brexit. Many MPs on both sides were unsettled by this. But I believe it was the right thing to do. We engaged in six weeks of serious talks with the Opposition, offering to compromise. But in the end those talks were not enough for Labour to reach an agreement with us. But I do not think that means we should give up. The House of Commons voted to trigger Article 50. And the majority of MPs say they want to deliver the result of the referendum. So I think we need to help them find a way. And I believe there is now one last chance to do that.
I have listened to concerns from across the political spectrum. I have done all I can to address them. And today I am making a serious offer to MPs across Parliament. A new Brexit deal. As part of that deal I will continue to make the case for the Conservative Party to be united behind a policy that can deliver Brexit. 9 out of 10 Conservative MPs have already given the Withdrawal Agreement their backing and I want to reach out to every single one of my colleagues to make the very best offer I can to them.
We came together around an amendment from Sir Graham Brady — and this gave rise to the work on Alternative Arrangements to the backstop. Although it is not possible for those to replace the backstop in the Withdrawal Agreement, we can start the work now to ensure they are a viable alternative. So as part of the new Brexit deal we will place the government under a legal obligation to seek to conclude Alternative Arrangements by December 2020 so that we can avoid any need for the backstop coming into force.
I have also listened to Unionist concerns about the backstop. So the new Brexit deal goes further to address these. It will commit that, should the backstop come into force, the Government will ensure that Great Britain will stay aligned with Northern Ireland. We will prohibit the proposal that a future Government could split Northern Ireland off from the UK’s customs territory. And we will deliver on our commitments to Northern Ireland in the December 2017 Joint Report in full. We will implement paragraph 50 of the Joint Report in law. The Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive will have to give their consent on a cross-community basis for new regulations which are added to the backstop.
And we will work with our Confidence and Supply Partners on how these commitments should be entrenched in law.
This new Brexit deal contains significant further changes to protect the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom and deliver Brexit.
It is a bespoke solution that answers the unique concerns of all parts of the community in Northern Ireland.
But the reality is that after three attempts to secure Parliamentary agreement, we will not leave the European Union unless we have a deal that can command wider cross-party support. That’s why I sat down with the Opposition.
I have been serious about listening to views across the House throughout this process. That is why when two Labour MPs, Lisa Nandy and Gareth Snell, put forward their proposals to give Parliament a bigger say in the next phase of the negotiations I listened to them. So the new Brexit deal will set out in law that the House of Commons will approve the UK’s objectives for the negotiations on our future relationship with the EU and they will approve the treaties governing that relationship before the Government signs them.
So the new Brexit deal will offer new safeguards to ensure these standards are always met. We will introduce a new Workers’ Rights Bill to ensure UK workers enjoy rights that are every bit as good as, or better than, those provided for by EU rules. And we will discuss further amendments with trade unions and business.
Edited extract of UK Prime Minister Theresa May's speech on the new Brexit, May 21 in London