Saturday 12 October 2019 / 11:57 AM Brexit / Keir Starmer

Keir Starmer’s speech at the Co-operative Party Annual Conference today

Keir Starmer MP, Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary, speaking at the Co-operative Party Annual conference in Glasgow this morning, said:-

It’s lucky this conference is happening this Saturday instead of next…

Because around this time next week I will be back in Westminster, taking part in the first Saturday sitting of Parliament for 37 years!

And only the fifth since WWII.

That’s the scale of the Brexit crisis we’re now facing

A crisis caused by the three Conservative Prime Ministers:

One who risked the country on a referendum he didn’t need to call

One who couldn’t get a Brexit deal through Parliament

And one who hasn’t tried to.

The country’s coming to see that Johnson was never a one nation Tory…..only a one-man narcissist. 

A man without a moral compass, and no idea where he’s going. But who will go anywhere to save his own skin.

He and the Tories are willing to hurtle the country towards the cliff edge of a  no deal Brexit. And they scoff at the consequences.

Because it will not be the Tories who pay the price. It will be working people.

No deal means recession. It means higher prices. It means job losses. It means struggling public services.

No deal is a plan for poverty, not for prosperity. 

 And the only people so dismissive of that are those who have never felt the pain of a recession.

I remember what the recession of the 1970s felt like. What it meant for my dad, for my mum, for me and my brother and sisters.

The Tories are blind to this.

Just last week, the Financial Times reported that Jacob Rees Mogg was trying to sell his hedge fund for £100 million.

It’s no surprise that he doesn’t worry too much about a no-deal Brexit. He probably thinks it means even less regulation. And even more opportunity to make a fast buck.

And let’s be clear: A no deal recession is not an unavoidable hardship, it’s a political choice.

A Tory political choice. Just as austerity was a Tory political choice.

And it’s not just jobs and the economy that are at risk from a no-deal disaster. 

A no-deal Brexit risks disruption to the supply of medicines to our NHS.

The idea that any politician would be willing to put our NHS…..and our medicine supply at risk….with a no deal Brexit is beyond comprehension to me.

And to think that after putting it at risk by a no-deal Brexit … the Tories would then put it up for sale to Donald Trump is shocking.

They must be stopped.

That’s why the next seven days will be so important.

We will have to see if developments in the last 24 hours lead to a deal.

I’ve learnt to be extremely cautious about these kind of reports ….and to wait and see the detail of any final text.

That’s particularly important when you’re dealing with Boris Johnson!

For Labour, our concern with the May deal was never over the backstop.

We didn’t have the same concerns as the DUP and the ERG.

Our concern was that the deal wouldn’t protect jobs, rights and living standards.

In all likelihood, it meant no customs union, a distant single market relationship, and no robust protections on rights, the environment or security.

That was why we voted it down three times.  Every indication so far is that a Boris Johnson Brexit will be even worse for working people.

No level playing field protections. No customs union. A green light to deregulate.

That kind of deal can never be one Labour supports.

So next week our priorities are clear:

If Boris Johnson does manage to negotiate a deal….. then we will insist that it is put back to the people in a confirmatory vote.

If he can’t – or I should say won’t – get a deal …we will take whatever steps are necessary to prevent our country crashing out of the EU without a deal.

I have heard some Cabinet ministers suggest that Boris Johnson could send a second letter to the EU saying he doesn’t want an extension.

That’s the equivalent of attaching a post-it note to divorce papers saying ‘only kidding’!

It’s a ridiculous idea.

So, let me be clear: If no deal is secured by this time next week, Boris Johnson must seek and accept an extension.

That’s the law. No ifs; no buts.

And if he doesn’t, we’ll enforce the law – in the courts and in Parliament.

Whatever it takes; we will prevent a no-deal Brexit.

But, of course, we have to recognise – important though that is – preventing a no deal Brexit is not an end in itself.

It won’t break the deadlock. It won’t allow the country to move on. After three and a half long years of failed promises….failed deals….and Tory divisions.

There is only one way out: put it to the people.

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. 

It is only by asking the people that we can draw a line under this. 

I know that is a strongly held view across the Co-operative Party too. 

Not least because as we all know – especially the Cooperative movement – for too long, too many decisions have been taken by too few…..and too much power is held back from working people.

 So, as John McDonnell said at our conference in Brighton:

 We can’t say to people “Labour wants you to share in the running of your workplace, your community and your environment, but we don’t trust you to have the final say over Brexit”.

But while we are in the heat of the Brexit fight…we must not lose sight of the bigger battle …the battle for the soul of our country.

For the Tories, a Boris Johnson deal or no deal mean turning out back on our EU trading partners.

Stepping off the level playing field that has helped to protect working people, our environment and consumers.

Once you do that, the country is on a slippery slope to deregulation.

And towards not just a deal with Donald Trump, but a vision of Britain that looks a lot more like the USA.

What does that look like?

In America today, there is no NHS. If you can’t afford health insurance…you won’t get the care you need. Getting sick can be a fast track to poverty.

In America today, inequality is even greater than it is here.

Wages have stagnated for longer… corporations have never been more powerful …… and workers more powerless.

Most American workers get just 10 days off a year, and most job contracts are “at will” … that means your employer can fire you at any time, with no notice, and no reason.

That vision of society motivates the Tories. We must stop them in their tracks and fight for our vision of the future.

 And it’s that vision – Labour’s vision for our country – that this Conference is all about: ‘building a fairer future.’

Now, believe it or not …I didn’t get into politics to talk about customs unions…..common regulatory zones…..or dynamic alignment!

And believe me, nobody will be happier than me when those terms drop off the political agenda!

I got into politics for the same reason many of you did: to be part of a movement – the Labour and Co-operative movement – to build a fairer future

Having run a frontline public service for five years – I’d seen first-hand what damage Tory austerity was doing

Not just to the quality of the public services we rely on… but also to the fabric of our society.

Austerity has fuelled grotesque inequality in health, income, power and opportunity

It’s created a more insecure, fragile world of work.

It’s meant that young people will be poorer than their parents at each stage of their lives. 

And it’s meant we can’t begin to tackle the huge social issues of our time such as the housing crisis and the chronic underfunding of social care.

But austerity has also put huge strain on the bonds of collectivism we all believe in.

The damage Thatcher did to collective ownership has been amplified by the austerity of Cameron and Osborne.

And a financial crash caused by the irresponsible behaviour of the few extraordinarily resulted in power being concentrated in even fewer hands.

Frankly, it’s not surprising that in the 2016 referendum millions of people voted for change.

And, as we all know, there is no Brexit deal that can solve these structural problems in our economy and society.

Only a radical programme of economic transformation can, coupled with a belief that a fair future must be one where power and opportunity are in the hands of everyone.

That’s why I’m so pleased to see some of the radical plans announced at our conference a fortnight ago

Plans that will not tinker with society, but fundamentally change it.

Plans that will put common ownership at the heart of the economy

And that will empower working people to have a stake in the workplace and in their communities.

Central to this is our commitment to double the size of the cooperative sector.

And decisively to shift the balance of ownership in companies from directors to workers.

I was also delighted to see the steps we announced on climate change and to ensure that community ownership and engagement will be at the heart of the green industrial revolution.

The climate crisis – not Brexit – should be the issue around which our politics revolves.

But it rarely gets debated in Parliament – let alone on a Saturday!

I’ve been hugely inspired by the many people outside Parliament who have mobilised to put their future, our futures, the whole planet’s future at the centre of our politics.

From the youth climate strikers to Extinction Rebellion to Labour for a Green New Deal, there has been an explosion of activism.

At Labour conference, delegates set a challenge for all of us in frontline politics that we must rise to.

Our party is now committed to rapid decarbonisation. It is now our responsibility to develop a plan for how we will achieve that.

No one should pretend they have all the answers. None of us do. But I am immensely proud that it is Labour that is asking these questions—and responding to the passion and commitment of our activists.

Make no mistake, we will need to put the economy on a war-footing to tackle the climate crisis.

And those who have profited the most from the status quo should be the ones that shoulder the greatest burden.

Too much wealth is concentrated in too few hands, and if it stays there, we risk doing too little as the clock ticks down. 

We need a fundamental shift in who holds power in the economy and to use our democratic power to promote social investment and to bring about the economic transformation needed to save the planet.

Conference, I know our politics feels chaotic at the moment …and doubtless it will get more so by next weekend!

But if we can hold Johnson’s feet to the fire next week…prevent a no deal Brexit …… and uphold the rule of the law….It will be a huge achievement.

But then, we will need to win the battle that will define our politics for a generation:

An election is coming. It is inevitable. And when that election comes –– Labour must offer a radical alternative to this right-wing Conservative government.

An alternative that offers people hope.

Hope that the daily life for millions could be made better. Hope that the deepest injustices could be righted. Hope that a society that is so deeply divided can be healed.

So, when that election comes, we will need your help.

Because only together can we win.