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October EU Council

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:51 pm on 22nd October 2018.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party 4:51 pm, 22nd October 2018

I thank the Prime Minister for the advance copy of her statement, and I am pleased she has condemned the horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. But condemnation is not enough; what matters now is what action the Government are prepared to take. Will they now end arms sales to Saudi Arabia?

Moving on to Brexit, I hope our debate today will be conducted without some of the language reported in the press over the weekend. I have to say that every word on Brexit was anticipated: a mixture of failure, denial and delusion. The Conservative party has spent the past two years arguing with itself, instead of negotiating a sensible deal in the public interest. Even at this crucial point, they are still bickering among themselves. The Prime Minister says that 95% of the deal is done, but previously she had told us that

“nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.

Which is it?

The Government’s Brexit negotiations have been a litany of missed deadlines and shambolic failure, and now they are begging for extra time. They promised that the interim agreement would be done by October 2017 and then by December 2017, but it was finally agreed in March 2018. The Prime Minister even missed the deadline for publishing her own Government’s White Paper on Brexit. She said it would be published by the end of June, but it arrived in mid-July, lacking any clarity on the key issues. Crucially, it arrived after the EU summit at which Britain’s proposals were supposed to have been tabled. And just last week, the Government missed their October deadline for agreeing to the terms of the exit deal with the EU—instead the Prime Minister went to Brussels to beg for an extension. The EU had already offered to convene a special summit in November to help the Prime Minister, but it now seems this has been withdrawn as she will not be ready by then either and so now December is being talked about. And the Prime Minister claims her extension of the transition period will be for only “a matter of months”. Is that three? Is that six? Is that 12? Is that 18? How many months is it? Who knows? Certainly the Prime Minister does not. But can the Prime Minister give one straight answer: what will it cost in extra payments to the EU per month during this extension? The Government are only proposing this extension because of their own incompetence.

We have had two and a half years watching the Tories’ failure to negotiate. Now even the Prime Minister does not have confidence that she can negotiate a deal by December 2020—that is another 14 months. What faith can anyone have that extending that deadline by “a matter of months” will help? Perhaps the Prime Minister can inform the House?

The Prime Minister also begged European leaders to come up with creative solutions. The country voted to leave, her Cabinet members said they would take back control, and now the Prime Minister is pleading with the EU to work out how to do it. It does not sound like taking back control; it sounds like a Government and a Prime Minister who are losing control.

The Government are terminally incompetent, hamstrung by their own divisions. The Prime Minister of Lithuania summed up the situation succinctly when he said:

“We do not know what they want, they do not know themselves what they really want—that is the problem.”

I am sure—[Interruption.]