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Former New Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling was in power at the time of the financial crisis in 2007.
A renowned Remain voter, last month he claimed the Brexit vote was a result of people’s “cynicism” following the economic crash – adding the EU departure will just make people even worse off.
But today, speaking to the House of Lords European Union Committee, the ex-MP called for the government to “get on with it” to make sure they can secure a good deal and transition period.
He said: “We don’t seem to know where we are going, and that to me is a pretty big stumbling block.
“Time is running out, although we talk about 2019 that’s the drop date when Article 50 comes to an end, but you have to have that ratified which means you now have 12 months.
“There is an awful lot left to be discussed.
“The urgent thing is for us to find where we want to end up, and if we are going to have a transitional period we better get on with it.
“The value degraded every day as the longer you don’t have it the less use it is.”
Alistair Darling said the uK must get on with it
Taking centre stage as part of the Brexit: Deal or no deal inquiry, ee said Theresa May’s speech was more poignant for “what it didn’t say” rather than what Mrs May did say.
And he reminded ministers that “the EU leaders read our press in a way we don’t read theirs and they are well aware of the divisions” in Britain.
He said: “We didn’t want a Norway the deal or a Canadian deal but she didn’t say what we did want.
“I just worry that she burnt a lot of boats by saying we wouldn’t be in the single market or customs union and that is throwing a lot overboard.
“There is a lot of talk about transition but you can only transition to a destination.”
Alistair Darling said it is in the EU’s interest to get a deal
He added it was also in the interest of Brussels to speed up talks and discuss trade options.
But he said: “It will take time. “I think a deal will be done but it will be four to five years.”
Lord Darling added that he believed the reason Britain “had this referendum was largely because of divisions in the Conservative party”.
And he warned that some in the cabinet “wouldn’t mind if the whole thing ended in complete chaos and people can see that”.
The urgent thing is for us to find where we want to end up, and if we are going to have a transitional Brexit period we better get on with it.
But Lord Darling went on to question why Britain is pushing forward with Brexit if it could put the UK economy at risk.
He said: “I’m sceptical that if you close the door on Europe everything else will open up.
“We’re living in a protectionist era at the moment, nationalism is rife.
“So I think my view and the view of most people is people can trade in whatever environment there is as long as there is certainty.
“Why are we doing this to ourselves? There are plenty of other things to battle, this is self-inflicted.”
Darling said Theresa May’s speech was more poignant for “what it didn’t say”
Lord Darling also insisted there were no benefits to coming out of the European Union with a ‘no deal’ scenario.
He said all countries across the world had some agreements on trade to some extent, and could not name any who operated solely on WTO rules.
And speaking about companies who have threatened to leave Britain after Brexit, the former chancellor added: “If you had a no deal that stretched into years then overseas investors would think where do we want to be.
“People want to be here and invest. The financial services industry likes being in London. So they don’t want to go.
“Why put them in the position when they are starting to think about leaving?”
Lord Alistair Darling said any dip in trade after brexit was self inflicted
To conclude his appearance, however, Lord Darling insisted the UK must recognise the need to compromise if it hopes to secure any form of Brexit deal.
“Whatever we end up we will arrive at some destination and that’s why right at the start I said what was lacking is an articulation of where we want to end up.
“This occasion we know we don’t want to be like Norway or Canada, the prime minister said in her speech, but we don’t have a clear articulation of what we do what.
“At the end of the day, both sides will have to do a deal. The question is how you can get something that works for both of us.
“You hear people on the other side of the Channel and they say what do you guys want, and the answer if we don’t really know.
“We have always been a pragmatic nation. If you’re going to do any trade deal there are compromises.
“Whilst the PM said she didn’t want the ECJ she recognised someone had to arbitrate.
“I just think this process is going to long, and the more difficulties will be surfaced. But at the end of the day we need to reach an agreement.”
Lord Alistair Darling said no point planning for ‘no deal’ because UK doesn’t know what to expect
His comments this afternoon come after David Davis, the Brexit secretary, told cabinet that almost 3,000 extra civil servants have been hired to work on preparing for Brexit.
No 10 said: “The preparatory work has seen a significant acceleration in recent months.
“Departments are preparing detailed delivery plans for each of the 300 programmes underway across government and these are monitored closely by DEXEU and the Cabinet Office.
“Each of these plans prepares the country for the range of negotiated outcomes and a ‘no deal’ scenario for a policy area affected by the UK leaving the EU.
“The plans set out detailed delivery timelines including, for example, to recruit and train new staff; to design and procure IT systems, and to deliver the necessary legislative and regulatory changes.”
While Philip Hammond, the chancellor, added that so far more than £500m has been committed to spending on Brexit preparations.
Mr Davis is due to appear before the committee later this afternoon.
He will outline exactly what ‘no deal’ will mean in practice and detail the “consequences for the UK, good and bad if there were to be no deal under Article 50.”