Uk/EU Future Economic Partnership

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:47 pm on 5th March 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party 3:47 pm, 5th March 2018

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Does the Prime Minister now agree that the Brexit Secretary was wrong when he told the House of Commons in January last year that a Tory Brexit deal will deliver the “exact same benefits” as the single market and the customs union? If so, why has it taken her so long to say so?

In her speech, the Prime Minister said that she wants “good access”. Can she make it clear today whether that means tariff-free access? The Prime Minister said that she wants a “customs arrangement”, but does that cover all sectors of industry or just some? Which will be excluded, and with what consequences in terms of tariffs and other barriers? Does the Prime Minister still think that a good trade deal can easily be reached with the Trump presidency after its unilateral imposition of tariffs on steel and aluminium imports, which follows its disgraceful attack on Bombardier?

It is possible to retain the benefits of the single market and the customs union. The problem is that we have a Prime Minister who is being held hostage by the extremes in her Cabinet who are willing to sacrifice parts of British business and industry, and willing to risk a hard border in Northern Ireland in order to carry on with their ideological crusade to shrink the state, slash investment and bring about an economic race to the bottom.

The Prime Minister said in her speech that, in areas like workers’ rights and the environment,

“we will not engage in a race to the bottom in the standards and protections…There is no…political constituency in the UK which would support this”.

That simply is not true. In the recent past we have seen the Secretary of State for International Trade write:

“It is intellectually unsustainable to believe that workplace rights should remain untouchable”.

The Leader of the House has said:

“I envisage there being…no regulation whatsoever—no minimum wage, no maternity or paternity rights, no…dismissal rights, no pension rights”.—[Official Report, 10 May 2012;
Vol. 545, c. 209.]

The Foreign Secretary has described EU-derived employment legislation as “back-breaking”, and in its leaked assessments, the exit analysis from the Department for Exiting the European Union stated that there could be opportunities for the UK in deregulating in areas such as the environment and employment law. There clearly is a political constituency that supports a race to the bottom on workplace rights: it is called the Cabinet.

On the crucial issue of Northern Ireland, the Prime Minister offered no real solution. Instead, she rehashed an already discredited Government idea to use a mix of technology and good will to ensure no hard border—an idea that the Brexit Secretary has already conceded is mere “blue-sky thinking”. Does the Prime Minister not understand that this is not just about cross-border paperwork and trade? There is also the issue of maintaining the social peace that has endured for 20 years. Will she condemn the ridiculous remarks made by the Foreign Secretary last week, when he not only compared the Irish border to that of Camden and Islington, but wrote her a letter saying it was not the British Government’s responsibility to prevent a hard border?

There are some things we do welcome in the Prime Minister’s statement—[Interruption.] I knew Members would be pleased. For one, it is clear that she has now abandoned her ridiculous red line regarding any role for the European Court of Justice, which opens the door to her welcome adoption of Labour’s position of the UK remaining a key part of the European Union agencies that are of benefit to this country.

As I set out last week, Labour’s priority is to get the best Brexit deal for jobs and living standards to underpin our plans to upgrade the economy and invest in every region and every community in this country. The Conservative Government’s reckless austerity is damaging our country, and the increasing sense of drift over Brexit risks increasing that damage. Now the Prime Minister admits that her Brexit plan will reduce our access to European markets and leave people worse off. We have had 20 months of promises, soundbites and confusion. However people feel about Brexit, it is clear to them that this Government are nowhere near delivering a good deal for Britain.