Keir Starmer speaking at Labour Party Conference
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It’s great to be here with you. I want to start by thanking all the delegates, trade unions, members and the whole Labour movement for your incredible support over the last year. Thanks also to my fantastic shadow Brexit team – in the Commons and in the Lords.
What a year it’s been.
In the conference motion you passed last year, you asked us to vote down Theresa May’s flawed deal. We did. You asked us to take all possible steps to prevent No Deal. We did. You asked us to keep the option of a public vote on the table. We did.
But now we face a very different challenge. Boris Johnson, leading the most right wing government in living memory. A man with no moral compass. No principles. And no regard for the truth. A man so unfit for the job that John Major has taken him to court. And even David Cameron has branded him ‘self-serving’.
I don’t believe a word that Johnson says. And neither should you. Johnson told us Brexit would be good for the NHS. It won’t. He told us shutting down Parliament wasn’t anything to do with Brexit. It was. He told us that he can unite the country. He can’t.
He has never put anyone’s interests above his own. And he’s not going to start now With Dominic Cummings pulling the strings, he threatens to take us out of the EU without a deal. No Deal might not be a problem for Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees Mogg or Dominic Raab but it would be a disaster for working people across the country. This is not a game.
Manufacturing would be torn apart. The service sector decimated. There would be chaos and delay at our borders. Vital foods and medicines will not get through. And the Good Friday Agreement could be imperilled. We will never accept that.
That’s why we were right to work on a cross party basis during the summer, with Jeremy uniting the opposition parties. To come together three weeks ago to pass a law to stop a No Deal Brexit on 31st October.
We used to call Theresa May’s government a ‘zombie’ government: but at least she occasionally won a vote. So far with this Prime Minister, it’s Johnson 0; Corbyn 6
It tells you all you need to know about Boris Johnson that we had to pass a law to stop him taking us out of the EU without a deal and that his first instinct is to try to find ways to break that law.
Well, Prime Minister, no one is above the law. And if you think we are going to stand idly by while you break it, you’ve got another think coming. When Parliament resumes we will be ready.
But while preventing No Deal is vital, it’s not an end in itself, it’s an insurance policy. It won’t break the deadlock. The county wants to move on. And we have to find a way forward
Conference, there is only one way forward – put it to the people!
Too much has happened in the last three years for this now to be decided without the consent of the public. We need to ask the public whether they are prepared to leave with the best deal that can be secured. Or whether they wouldn’t rather Remain in the EU. The people must have the final say.
A referendum in which ‘Remain’ should – and will – be on the ballot paper. Along with the best leave deal that can be secured. We owe it to those who want to leave to secure that leave deal and put it to them in a referendum.
Conference, we’ve come a long way. An Election is coming. It is inevitable. We have a Prime Minister with no mandate, no plan, and no majority. We’ve beaten the Tories in Parliament. Soon we will have to beat them at the ballot box.
The choice is stark. Lose, and the 2020s could be another lost decade. A No Deal Brexit, on top of a hard-right agenda that will strip back rights and protections and sell off public services. Win, and Labour can pull this country back from the brink: end austerity, rebuild our public services, and invest in our communities. The stakes could not be higher.
So Conference, I can announce today that an in-coming Labour government will legislate immediately for that referendum to take place. It will take place as soon as possible – and no later than 6 months from a Labour government taking office.
So, I have a very simple message today: If you want a referendum – Vote Labour. If you want a final say on Brexit – Vote Labour. If you want to fight for Remain – Vote Labour. Labour will let the people decide.
Conference, you know where I stand on the question of Remain: I’ve said many times that I will campaign for it. But I profoundly respect those who take a different view. And Conference, let’s go into this with our eyes open.
In 2016 Labour campaigned for Remain. We did so because we are internationalists. We stand in solidarity with our friends and neighbours in Europe. We profoundly believe in peace, reconciliation, human rights and collaboration across borders. Socialist values. Our values. Then and now. And let those values guide us on the road ahead.
But we didn’t just campaign to Remain. We campaigned to Remain and to Reform. We cannot – and we should not – just defend the status quo in Europe or at home. We must make the case for radical reform in Europe and at home. We are the largest socialist party in Europe. It is our duty to lead. Let us bring together our sister parties across Europe. And host an international conference to forge our shared plan for a social Europe. With the UK at its heart, not sitting on the side-lines. Leading not pleading.
But Brexit is deeper and bigger than our relationship with the EU. We will never get past Brexit if we don’t understand why – when asked – so many millions said they wanted change. The people didn’t just speak. They shouted. Millions told us that the current political and economic system isn’t working. And they are right about that.
The status quo is bust. Inequality and injustice are everywhere. We need a fundamental shift in power, and wealth, and opportunity. That’s why our 2017 manifesto was so popular. We must build on it.
Only a Labour government will end child poverty. Only a Labour government will confront the moral disgrace of homelessness. Only a Labour government will transform our economy to end insecure work – raise wages – and create good new jobs across the country. Only a Labour government will tackle the climate emergency, so we can look at the next generation in the eye and say ‘we did not let you down’.
Conference, the Tories have failed: they’ve wrecked our economy, public services, and welfare state. They’ve wrecked our international reputation. Their time is up.
We have to beat them, and we will. We have to defeat Johnson, and we shall. And defeat his politics, to show that decency can triumph. We have to deliver a radical Labour government and give the people the final say on whether we Remain in the EU.
Let’s get on with it!