Speaking as part of a HuffPost UK fringe event as the Conservative Party conference got underway in Birmingham on Sunday, Clark said the Prime Ministers’ Chequers blueprint would see the country “well-placed to not only dominate the creation of new ideas but to create jobs”.
If May can break the impasse with EU leaders, the UK would sign up to a common rule book and customs arrangement with Brussels that would ensure frictionless trade.
But support for the Chequers accord is threadbare among Tory MPs, with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and others said to be close to backing a Canada-style free trade deal, which offers a clean break on customs, as an alternative.
But Clark said this would see the UK “missing out on fantastic opportunities for the future” in tech, automation and other industry.
He said: “We are, as it happens, a country that is superbly well positioned in most of the big transformations that are taking place across the world today.”
Clark referenced renewables, manufacturing and medical research as key areas where jobs could be created, but said signing up to the Canada model would “undermine” this.
He said: “This is a time of opportunity and excitement, and we should be moving towards that and grabbing it with both hands and reasserting our leadership in these areas rather than taking any steps that would undermine that.”
He added: “One of the problems of the Canada model... is that it requires frictions at the borders and checks at the border.
“I think everyone recognises that and acknowledges that it doesn’t do what is necessary to avoid those frictions.
“I think it would set back our competitiveness.”
Clark flatly rejected calls for the UK to delay Brexit and said it would not unlock talks.
“The matters that need to be resolved are not more likely to be resolved by delaying or extending,” he said.
“I think we need to get on with it and we need to come to an agreement. It was always foreseeable right from the day after the referendum that the full period of negotiations would be used and that the action would take place as you got closer to the end of that period.”
Turning to Johnson’s intervention on HS2, which would see ministers ditch the north-south high-speed rail line in favour of a east-west line in the north, Clark said: “It will be completely the wrong choice. One of the upsetting criticisms of successive governments in the UK is that we haven’t got on and invested in supporting the infrastructure for the economy.
“We have made a decision to invest in HS2 and I think it is important that we follow through with that.”
Clark also reiterated his alarm at Johnson’s reported “f*** business” comments.
The minister said: “I was very clear that was totally the wrong thing to say and I was surprised that anyone could even think that.
“We depend for our prosperity on businesses and there is no successful economy anywhere in the world. In fact, there is no successful society in the world that does not have successful and flourishing businesses.”
Clark also responded to reports the major funder of independent scientific research, the Wellcome Trust, has said its continued presence in the UK was “not unconditional”, with director Jeremy Farrar telling the Guardian that “no deal would leave a void on access to funding, regulation and, critically, migration”.
He said: “You have to not take for granted the presence of important businesses and funders and research organisations.
“Everyday we need to fight for and reassert our credentials as the place to locate.”