Boris Johnson has said the historic vote five years ago to leave the EU will now act as a spur to jobs and renewal across the UK as it recovers from the pandemic.
In a statement to mark the anniversary on Wednesday of the 2016 referendum, the British Prime Minister said it is his “mission” to use the freedoms it gave to deliver a better future for the British people.
However, in a sharply contrasting message, the veteran pro-European Michael Heseltine said the outlook was “ominous”, with the Northern Ireland peace process under real threat.
In his statement, Mr Johnson, who spearheaded the successful Vote Leave campaign, said the country had voted five years ago to “take back control of our destiny”.
“This Government got Brexit done and we’ve already reclaimed our money, laws, borders and waters,” he said.
“Now as we recover from this pandemic, we will seize the true potential of our regained sovereignty to unite and level up our whole United Kingdom.
“With control over our regulations and subsidies, and with freeports driving new investment, we will spur innovation, jobs and renewal across every part of our country.
“The decision to leave the EU may now be part of our history, but our clear mission is to utilise the freedoms it brings to shape a better future for our people.”
However Mr Heseltine, the former deputy prime minister who is now president of the European Movement, said Brexit was the “very opposite” of what the country needed following the pandemic.
“Five years on, Brexit is far from ‘done’. It has only just begun and the forecast is ominous,” he said.
“Storm clouds are gathering on the horizon, chief among them the threat to the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland.
“The fishing industry has now voiced its betrayal and the Australian trade deal will slowly erode the competitiveness of British farmers over the next 15 years.
“Meanwhile, the financial services industry quietly moves its activities to Europe in order to escape the continuing Brexit uncertainty.”
For Labour, shadow Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh said Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal was responsible for the current unrest in Northern Ireland.
“There is a direct line from the Prime Minister’s dishonesty over the deal he negotiated, to the instability we see in Northern Ireland today,” she said.
“The Prime Minister pledged never to put barriers down the Irish Sea and then a few months later did exactly that – this dishonesty is still having real consequences."