Jeremy Corbyn responding to the PM’s European Council statement in the House
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Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of the Labour Party, responding to the Prime Minister’s European Council statement in the House, said:
I would like to thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of her statement.
Mr Speaker, yesterday EU leaders agreed to grant the United Kingdom an article 50 extension up until 31 October.
This means the UK 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 3 weeks after the Prime Minister told the House, she was not prepared to delay Brexit any further than 30th June.
This second extension in the space of a fortnight represents not only 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 abstained.
And can the Prime Minister also 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 our country.
Mr Speaker, 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 didn’t even come at the eleventh hour, but at five past midnight, 3 days after the Prime Minister had missed her own Brexit deadline of 29th 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 so far.
Although this view may not be universally shared by many on the Conservative backbenches, 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 which is supported by the business and industry bodies as well as by all the leading trade unions.
It is a proposal that EU leaders and the Irish Taoiseach just yesterday have 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 EU 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.
And 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.
The House must also bear in mind that after a deal has passed, the current prime minister has said 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 in the ring have said they would, “Scrap the Human Rights Act” or “rip up burdensome regulation” or would even prefer to leave without a deal.
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 NHS 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 the country, Labour will not support any deal that would leave open such a dystopian vision for Britain.
It is incumbent on us all now to find a way forward. We must continue to talk to each other across parties.
If the Government is serious, the red lines must move and we must see a real compromise.
I look forward to the discussions in the coming days, as even at this late stage, we work to find a deal that can command not only the support of this House but the support of the public too.