EU Exit Negotiations

Part of Government Overseas Aid Commitment: Private Investment – in the House of Commons at 5:14 pm on 9th October 2018.

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Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 5:14 pm, 9th October 2018

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. It is always good to see him in his place, but may I politely point out that it would have been much better if this statement had come from the Prime Minister? It is no good hiding behind the badging of the Salzburg summit as informal. It was the Prime Minister who pushed for Brexit to be on the agenda at Salzburg; it was the Prime Minister who was there to lead the negotiations, and it was the Prime Minister who failed to secure a breakthrough. So it should be the Prime Minister, not the Secretary of State, in Parliament this afternoon explaining what went wrong.

After all, while the Prime Minister was negotiating in Salzburg, the Secretary of State was busy writing gimmicky letters to me about Labour policy. The image of the Secretary of State writing gimmicky letters on the very day of the Salzburg negotiations speaks absolutely for itself. It would also have been better if today’s statement contained details of substantive progress. Instead, it is like groundhog day. We get the same old story. The Secretary of State pretends that everything is going according to plan; it is just a question of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s; everything will be all right in the end; and if it isn’t, we just crash out with no deal, stockpile food and medicines and declare that to be a great success.

I know that the Brexit Secretary will be tempted in reply to me to do what he usually does—to read out his pre-prepared attack lines about me and the Labour party. Can I urge him to resist that temptation and respond to the very serious questions to which this House and the country deserve answers? First, this Secretary of State repeatedly assured Parliament, including from that Dispatch Box, that a deal would be reached by the October Council—his words. Well, that is next week. The statement contains no such statement today, so can he, first, update the House on when he now expects a deal to be put before Parliament?

Secondly, it is all very well the Secretary of State saying that we are

“closing in on workable solutions” and listing the areas of agreement reached months ago, but we have been here before—many times—and that overlooks the fact that the remaining bit is the hard bit of agreeing the backstop in Northern Ireland. A solemn commitment to a legally binding backstop in Northern Ireland in all circumstances was made last December. Ten months later, all we are hearing is that the Government will publish updated proposals on the backstop at some unspecified date. There are nine days to go, so when will that be? There is no answer in today’s statement and we need an answer. Can the Secretary of State take the opportunity now to scotch rumours that the Government are not even intending to publish a backstop proposal by next week? [Interruption.] I am being repeatedly asked what I would do. I would happily swap sides at any stage, and a lot more progress would be made in the negotiations. [Interruption.]