Jeremy Corbyn responds to Boris Johnson’s first statement in the House as Prime Minister
Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of the Labour Party, statement in the House of Commons responding to Prime Minister Johnson.
**Check against delivery**
Mr Speaker, I welcome the Right Honourable Gentleman to his position and thank him for an advance copy of his statement. No one underestimates this country, but the country is deeply worried that the new Prime Minister overestimates himself. He inherits a country that has been held back by nine years of austerity that has hit children and younger people hardest. Their youth centres have closed, their school funding cut, college budgets slashed, and tuition fees trebled. Their housing costs are higher than ever, their jobs are lower paid. Opportunity and freedom have been taken away.
Austerity was always a political choice, never an economic necessity. His predecessor promised to end austerity but spectacularly failed to deliver. People do not trust this Prime Minister to make the right choices for the majority of people in this country when he’s also promising tax giveaways for the richest and big business, his own party’s funders. So can he indicate now when he will set out the detail of the exact funding settlement for our schools, councils and police so that they can start planning now?
We must also address the deep regional inequalities in this country. The Northern Powerhouse has been massively underpowered; the Midlands Engine has not been fuelled. So will he match Labour’s commitment of a £500 billion investment to rebalance this country through regional development banks and a National Transformation Fund?
He has hastily thrown together a hard right Cabinet, and I have just a couple of questions on those appointments. Given his appointment is the first Home Secretary for a generation to support the death penalty, can the Prime Minister assure the House that his Government has no plans to bring back capital punishment? And before appointing the new Education Secretary, was the Prime Minister given sight of the Huawei leak investigation by the Cabinet secretary?
I was deeply alarmed to see no plan for Brexit. He was in the Cabinet that accepted the backstop and of course voted for it on 30 March this year. It would be welcome if he could set out what he finds so objectionable, having voted for it less than four months ago. Could he explain this flip-flopping? The House will have both a sense of déjà vu and trepidation at a Prime Minister setting out rigid red lines and an artificial timetable. There is also something eerily familiar about a Prime Minister marching off to Europe with demands to scrap the backstop. So how does the Prime Minister think he will succeed where his predecessor failed?
However, I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to finally guarantee the rights of EU citizens. It is a great shame that this offer has only been made now, more than three years after Labour first proposed it. Our friends, neighbours and family should never have been treated as bargaining chips, causing untold stress and worry.
If the Prime Minister continues to pursue a reckless No Deal, does he accept that he would be directly flouting the expressed will of this Parliament? Industry, businesses and unions have been absolutely clear about the threat it poses. No Deal means no steel, no car industry, food prices rising dramatically and huge job losses. Make UK says No Deal would be “the height of economic lunacy.” Companies from Toyota to Asda have been clear about the dangers of No Deal.
Is the Prime Minister still guided by his “F*** Business” policy? Mr Speaker, those recklessly advocating No Deal won’t be the ones who will lose out. The wealthy elite that funds him and his party will not lose their jobs, see their living standards cut, face higher food bills. Mr Speaker, if the Prime Minister has confidence in his plan, once he’s decided it, he should go back to the people. Labour will oppose any deal that fails to protect jobs, workers’ rights or environmental protections, and if he has the confidence to put that decision back to the people, we will campaign to Remain.
Mr Speaker, the office of Prime Minister requires integrity and honesty, so will he correct his claim that kipper exports from the Isle of Man to the UK are subject to EU regulations? Will he also acknowledge that the £39 billion is now £33 billion, due over 30 years, and has been legally committed to be paid by his predecessor? This is a phoney threat about a fake pot of money.
Mr Speaker, we also face a climate emergency, so will he take the urgent actions necessary? Will he ban fracking? Will he back real British ingenuity like the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon? Will he increase investment into carbon capture and storage? Will he back our solar industry and onshore wind, so devastated in the last nine years? Will he set out a credible plan to reach net zero?
I note the climate change-denying US President has already labelled him “Britain Trump” and welcomed his commitment to work with Nigel Farage. Could “Britain Trump” take this opportunity to rule out the NHS being part of any trade deal with President Trump? Mr Speaker, people fear that far from wanting to “take back control” the new Prime Minister would effectively make us a vassal state to Trump’s America. Will he ask the new Foreign Secretary to prioritise the release of Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe? And is he committed to working with European partners to restore the Iran nuclear deal and de-escalate tensions in the Gulf?
Mr Speaker, the challenges to end austerity, tackle inequality, resolve Brexit and tackle the climate emergency are what will define the new Prime Minister. Instead, we have a hard right Cabinet staking everything on tax cuts for the few and a reckless race to the bottom Brexit. He says he has pluck, nerve and ambition. Our country does not need arm-waving bluster but competence, seriousness and, after a decade of division policies for the few, to focus on the interests of the many.