European Council

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:43 pm on 17th December 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 3:43 pm, 17th December 2018

I thank the Prime Minister for the advance copy of her statement.

On Ukraine, as NATO has said, we need both sides to show restraint and de-escalate, with international law adhered to, including Russia’s allowing unhindered access to Ukraine’s ports on the sea of Azov.

We face an unprecedented situation: the Prime Minister has led us into a national crisis. If any more evidence was needed of why we face this grave situation, the Prime Minister demonstrated it at last week’s summit. There were some warm words drafted, but the Prime Minister even managed to negotiate those away, to be replaced by words about preparing for no deal. The Prime Minister boasted:

“I had a robust discussion with President Juncker”,

but that cannot hide the cold reality that she achieved nothing. Standing at the Dispatch Box last week, the Prime Minister said,

“I have made some progress”.—[Official Report, 12 December 2018;
Vol. 651, c. 274.]

She has not made any progress at all.

She said so herself while still in Brussels.

“The EU is clear, as am I, that this is the deal.”

The European Commission has been categorical. It said:

“It will not be renegotiated. The European Council has given the clarifications that were possible at this stage, so no further meetings with the UK are foreseen.”

The deal is unchanged and it is not going to change. The House must get on with the vote and move on to consider the realistic alternatives. There can be no logical reason for this delay, except that, in taking shambolic government to a new level, the Prime Minister no longer has the backing of her Cabinet. The International Trade Secretary has suggested that the Prime Minister’s deal no longer has the backing of the Cabinet. It is worth quoting his words. He said:

“I think that it is very difficult to support the deal if we don’t get changes to the backstop. I don’t think it will get through. I am not even sure if the Cabinet will agree for it to be put to the House of Commons.”

We have had the spectacle of the past few days with numerous Cabinet members coming forward with their own alternatives. The International Trade Secretary suggested that a two-year transition to a no deal is an option. The Work and Pensions Secretary says that the Government need “to try something different” and build a consensus in Parliament. The Attorney General is reported as saying that he wants her gone and for the deal to be renegotiated, while the International Development Secretary is allegedly liaising with the European Research Group to launch an alternative option. Others are reportedly working on a second referendum, but if even the Cabinet no longer backs the deal, then who knows what the options would be?

Will the Prime Minister give us some answers? First, does her deal still have the confidence of the Cabinet? Secondly, is Cabinet collective responsibility still in operation? Thirdly, does it remain Government policy to avoid a no-deal outcome? An unacceptable deal is on the table. No amendment has been secured. Renegotiations have been rebuffed and not even mere assurances have been offered. The Prime Minister’s shoddy deal no longer even has the backing of the Cabinet.

The Prime Minister ran away from putting her deal before Parliament, because even her own Cabinet has doubts, and she herself admits that Parliament will not back it, so we are left edging ever closer to the 29 March deadline without a deal and without even an agreed plan in Cabinet to get a deal. The Prime Minister has cynically run down the clock, trying to manoeuvre Parliament into a choice between two unacceptable outcomes: her deal or no deal.

The country, workers and businesses are increasingly anxious. Yesterday, the CBI said:

“Uncertainty is throttling firms and threatening jobs—not in the future but right now.”

The British Chambers of Commerce has said:

“There is no time to waste.”

A responsible Prime Minister would, for the good of this country, put this deal before the House this week so that we can move on from this Government’s disastrous negotiations. This is a constitutional crisis and the Prime Minister is its architect. She is leading the most shambolic and chaotic Government in modern British history; even Cabinet no longer functions. We have a Prime Minister whose authority has been lost, a Cabinet disintegrating into cliques and factions, and a Conservative party so fundamentally split that its very existence is being discussed. It is clear that the Prime Minister has failed to renegotiate her deal and failed to get any meaningful reassurances. There is no excuse for any more dither or delay. This Government have already become the first Government in British history to be held in contempt by Parliament. The debate on the meaningful vote was pulled at the last minute. The Prime Minister has now wasted five weeks having achieved nothing—not a single word renegotiated; not a single reassurance gained. This last week has embodied the failure, chaos and indecision at the heart of the Government’s shambolic handling of Brexit. Today, they have been dragged kicking and screaming to announce a date to restart the debate. It is—[Interruption.]