June European Council

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:54 pm on 2nd July 2018.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party 4:54 pm, 2nd July 2018

I thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of her statement. The statement was nearly 2,000 words, and all the Prime Minister says on Brexit is that we need

“clarity about our future relationship”.

Yes, we do—we have been waiting for over two years for any clarity from this Government.

Let me first address the issue of migration. I hope that the whole House shares my concern about the direction in which those on the hard right seem determined to take Europe’s migration and asylum policy. There was evidence of that only a few weeks ago when the new Italian Interior Minister exploited the plight of 600 migrant refugees on the rescue ship Aquarius to make a callous political point. That incident has made it clear that, more than ever, we need strong leadership across Europe to uphold the right to asylum and treat all migrants with dignity and respect. It is right that EU countries should help migrants rescued in the Mediterranean and also take action to alleviate the burden on Italy and Greece. What commitments or support has the Prime Minister made or offered in that respect?

We understand that the EU plan now is to swiftly explore the idea of processing centres in north Africa. Can the Prime Minister confirm whether any non-European Union countries have indicated that they would sign up to that deal? In the face of a very worrying surge in far-right rhetoric across the EU, I urge the Prime Minister to stand up for humanitarian values and ensure that Britain is on the right side of this debate, ready to stand up to those who try to use the plight and suffering of tens of thousands of people to incite division and hate anywhere across this continent. On the issue of security and challenging disinformation, I look forward to the December action plan and to debating the NATO summit next week.

When it comes to Brexit, this Government have mishandled the negotiations every step of the way. Another summit has gone and another opportunity has been missed. The division and infighting in the Cabinet is having a debilitating effect on this country, and threatens jobs and communities in every part of the UK. I do not envy the Prime Minister as she prepares for her Chequers sleepover. She has many loud and competing voices in her Cabinet—not competing to do the best for this country, but to do the best for themselves. The Prime Minister’s primary duty is not to manage the latest division within her Cabinet, but to negotiate a deal that will safeguard jobs and living standards for decades to come.

We look forward to the much-vaunted third way on customs that the Prime Minister hopes will unite her Cabinet, because the current chaos at the heart of government leaves us facing crucial unanswered questions. First, will UK trade be greater outside a customs union? If the Government believe that it will, can they show us how they reached that conclusion? In recent days, one major business after another has lined up to say that it is vital for Britain to be in a customs union, as have many trade unions. The Government’s published impact assessments show that potential new trade deals come nowhere near replacing the advantages of being in a customs union, leaving every region and every nation worse off. What evidence do this Government have to suggest that rejecting any form of customs union with our biggest trading partner is the best way of protecting jobs here in Britain? Even the NHS is now having to plan for multiple scenarios because there is no clarity from Government.

Secondly, how do the Government intend to prevent a hard border in Ireland if we are not in a customs union? They say they have been working on finding “flexible and imaginative solutions”, so where are those solutions? The people of Northern Ireland deserve honesty.

Thirdly, what will our future relationship with our biggest trading partner look like? The problem is that the Prime Minister is stuck in the middle of two warring factions, but she now needs to pick a side. Does she want—[Interruption.] The question is quite simply: does she want a close trading relationship with the EU, with aligned rights and regulations, or does she believe in the visions of those on her Benches who see Britain’s future as a low-regulated, low-investment tax haven?

Fourthly, will potential options for Britain’s future immigration policy be included in the Brexit White Paper? We know freedom of movement will change when we leave the EU, but we are still no clearer about what will come next. Recent figures show that migration of EU nationals is continuing to fall, with some sectors suffering shortages, including in the national health service.

Finally, is the Prime Minister still confident she can get a deal? At this stage, it is not clear that the Prime Minister can even get a deal with her Cabinet, which is why—after two years—the White Paper is nowhere to be seen. The divisions and open warfare at the highest levels of her Government are holding this country back. Even her own Cabinet members are openly saying a deal cannot be done before the transition period, and they are already saying that the transition period will have to be extended.

The Prime Minister has for too long hidden behind a series of soundbites, including “No deal is better than a bad deal.” No deal is a bad deal and would represent historic failure. The Prime Minister must choose: will she rein in the egos of her Cabinet, or negotiate a deal that works for the people of this country and those worried about their jobs, their future and their communities?