EU Exit Negotiations

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:40 pm on 5th December 2017.

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Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 12:40 pm, 5th December 2017

What an embarrassment. The last 24 hours have given a new meaning to the phrase “coalition of chaos”. Yesterday morning, No. 10 was briefing that a deal would be signed. There was high expectation that the Prime Minister would make a triumphant statement to the House. By teatime, we had a 49-second press conference saying that the deal was off. It is one thing to go to Brussels and fall out with those on the other side of the negotiating table; it is quite another to go to Brussels and fall out with those who are supposedly on our own side of the negotiating table. If ever there was a day for the Prime Minister to come to this House to answer questions, it is today.

But let us not be fooled that yesterday was just about choreography. There are two underlying causes of this latest and most serious failure. The first can be traced back to the Prime Minister’s conference speech in October last year, when she recklessly swept options such as the customs union and the single market off the table, and ruled out any role for the European Court of Justice, yet maintained that she could avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland. Well, yesterday the rubber hit the road. Fantasy met brutal reality. Labour is clear that there needs to be a UK-wide response to Brexit, so the question for the Government today is this: will the Prime Minister now rethink her reckless red lines and put options such a customs union and single market back on the table for negotiations? If the price of the Prime Minister’s approach is the break-up of the Union and the reopening of bitter divides in Northern Ireland, that price is too high.

The second major reason for yesterday’s failure is that we have a Prime Minister who is so weak that the Democratic Unionist party has a veto over any proposal she makes. What precedent does it set when the Prime Minister is called out of negotiations at the 11th hour to be told by the DUP that the deal is off? What signal does that send to the EU about the Prime Minister’s ability to deliver Brexit?

Yesterday confirmed what we already knew: the DUP tail is wagging the Tory dog. This is now deeply serious, so what assurance can the Secretary of State give to the House that a deal will be agreed by the end of the week? Will he now drop the proposal for a fixed deadline in law for exit day of 29 March 2019? If ever there was an example of why that would be absurd, yesterday was it.