European Council

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:43 pm on 14th March 2017.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party 12:43 pm, 14th March 2017

I thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of the statement. The passing into law of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill marks an historic step. The triggering of article 50 later this month is a process that will shape this country’s future. There is no doubt that if the wrong decisions are made, we will pay the price for decades to come.

Now, more than ever, Britain needs an inclusive Government who listen and act accordingly. However, all the signs are that we have a complacent Government—complacent with our economy; complacent with people’s rights; complacent about the future of this country. I urge the Prime Minister to listen to the collective wisdom of this Parliament, and to give the House a full opportunity to scrutinise the article 50 deal with a meaningful final vote. The people’s representatives deserve better than “take it or leave it”. If we are to protect jobs and living standards, and if we are to protect the future prosperity of the country, the Government must secure tariff-free access to the single European market.

The Prime Minister has already made the threat to our negotiating partners to turn Britain into a deregulated tax haven. Is that what she means by “global Britain”? When the Foreign Secretary says that no deal with the EU would be “perfectly OK”, it simply is not good enough. Far from taking back control, leaving Britain to World Trade Organisation rules would mean losing control, losing jobs, and, frankly, losing out. The Prime Minister says that no deal is better than a bad deal. Let me be clear: no deal is a bad deal. Such a complacent strategy would punish business, hit jobs, and devastate public services on which people rely.

The Prime Minister says that she is seeking to secure a future free trade deal with the EU, after initial negotiations have been completed. If that is the strategy, it is essential that the Government stop being complacent and focus on securing a transitional agreement with the EU at the earliest opportunity. That would at least give the British people and businesses some short-term clarity during this period.

The Prime Minister said that she wanted to provide certainty on the issue of EU nationals as soon as possible. Why, then, have the Government voted down every Labour attempt to bring certainty to EU nationals, who make such a massive contribution to our community and our society? These people are not bargaining chips; they are mothers, fathers, wives and husbands. They are valued members of our community. The Government could and should have acted months ago. I agree with the Prime Minister that now is not the time to create uncertainty or play politics. She should tell that to the EU migrants in Britain who have no idea what their future holds because of the decisions made by her Government.

Is the Prime Minister saying that she is content for refugees to remain in camps in Libya—is that a safe country?—or for Greece, Italy and Malta to shoulder the entire burden of refugees from north Africa and the middle east? While we welcome the conference on Somalia that she is proposing, we need to know what support Britain is offering to all those countries. Does the Prime Minister still believe that we have a collective responsibility on the issue of refugees?

The Prime Minister said that she had argued about tackling vile smuggling rings, and about people being subjected to unimaginable abuse. Does she not agree that her argument would be so much stronger if her Government had been prepared to accept some of the victims of that unimaginable abuse; for example, the children who should have been accepted through the Dubs amendment?

As we move towards the triggering of article 50, there is much uncertainty about Britain’s future. A responsible Government would set a positive tone with our negotiating partners, and would move to protect our economy, workers and citizens at the earliest opportunity. Instead, we have a reckless Government who are playing fast and loose with the British economy. We will fight for jobs and the economy, using every parliamentary mechanism that is available, and the Government should welcome that scrutiny.