European Council

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:43 pm on 11th April 2019.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party 1:43 pm, 11th April 2019

I thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of her statement. Yesterday, EU leaders agreed to grant the United Kingdom an article 50 extension until 31 October. This means that Britain will now have to start the process of holding European elections in the extraordinary situation of not knowing whether new MEPs will take their seats, or for how long. This has come just three weeks after the Prime Minister told the House that she was not prepared to delay Brexit any longer than 30 June. This second extension in the space of a fortnight not only represents a diplomatic failure, but is another milestone in the Government’s mishandling of the entire Brexit process.

A measure of this could be seen in this House on Monday when one third of her party voted against her own policy to request a short delay and four of her Cabinet members abstained. Can the Prime Minister confirm that the request by the Leader of the House on Tuesday for the EU to reopen the withdrawal agreement has also been rebuffed? The Prime Minister stuck rigidly to a flawed plan and now the clock has run down, leaving Britain in limbo and adding to the deep uncertainty for business, workers and people all across this country.

I welcome that the Prime Minister finally decided to reach out to the Opposition last week and open talks to try to find a breakthrough. The fact that the invitation did not even come at the eleventh hour, but at five past midnight three days after the Prime Minister had missed her own Brexit deadline of 29 March, is a reflection of the Government’s fundamental error in not proceeding by consensus. However, I can report to the House that the talks now taking place between the Opposition and the Government are serious, detailed and ongoing, and I welcome the constructive engagement that we have had. Although this view may not be universally shared on the Conservative Benches, I also welcome the indications from the Government that they may be willing to move in the key areas that have prevented the Prime Minister’s deal from being supported on this side of the House. If these talks are to be a success, resulting in an agreement that can bring our country back together, the Government will have to compromise. That is why it was with disappointment that I read the Secretary of State for International Trade’s letter this week, in what seemed to be an attempt to scupper meaningful talks by all but ruling out Labour’s customs union proposal—a proposal, I might add, that is supported by business and industry bodies as well as by all leading trade unions in this country. It is a proposal that European Union leaders and the Irish Taoiseach just yesterday said is both credible and negotiable.

Labour will continue to engage constructively in talks, because we respect the result of the referendum and we are committed to defending jobs, industry and living standards by delivering a close economic relationship with the European Union and securing frictionless trade with improved rights and standards. If that is not possible, we believe all options should remain on the table, including the option of a public vote. We see no advantage in the proposals of the Secretary of State for International Trade to create distance and divergence in our trading relationship with our largest trading partner.

This House must also bear in mind that after a deal has passed, the current Prime Minister has said that she will step down. We have no idea who may succeed her, so with that in mind, we have to entrench any agreement, because some of those already throwing their hats into the ring have said that they would scrap the Human Rights Act, they would rip up burdensome regulation, or they would even prefer to leave without any deal at all. Some on the Conservative Benches want nothing more than to use Brexit to create a race to the bottom, opening up our economy to US big pharma companies in our national health service and hormone-treated beef on our plates, to slash workers’ rights and consumer standards, and to have the UK become a virtual tax haven on the shores of Europe.

Let me be clear to the Prime Minister and to the country: Labour will not support any deal that would leave us open to such a dystopian vision for the future of this country. It is incumbent on all of us now to find a way forward. We must continue to talk to each other, and if the Government are serious, the red lines must move and we must see a real compromise. I look forward to the discussions in the coming days and, even at this late stage, to working to find a deal that can command the support not only of this House, but, perhaps more importantly, of the public across this country too.