Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of the Labour Party, responding to the Prime Minister’s Brexit statement, said I would like to thank the Prime Minister for an advance copy of his statement. But what we have before us is a rehashed version of previously rejected proposals that put the Good Friday Agreement at risk and would trigger a race to the bottom on rights and protections for workers, consumers and our precious environment. Given the seriousness of this issue and the vagueness of proposals so far, can the Prime Minister tell this House if and when he plans to publish the full legal text he must submit to the EU?
These proposals would lead to an even worse deal than that agreed by the Right Hon member for Maidenhead. The Prime Minister signed up to the backstop in Cabinet and he voted for the Withdrawal Agreement as a backbencher. His letter to the President of the Commission yesterday claims both are now unacceptable. Perhaps he can tell us what has changed? Why did he support it then but oppose it now? The letter makes his intentions clear. It rejects any form of customs union – something demanded by every business and industry body in the UK, and every trade union.
They want to ditch EU standards on workers’ rights, environmental regulations and consumer standards, and engage in a race to the bottom. Deal or no deal, this Government’s agenda is clear: they want a Trump Deal Brexit.
A Trump Deal Brexit that would crash our economy and rip away the standards that put a floor under people’s rights at work that protect our environment and protect our consumers. No Labour MP could support such a reckless deal that would be used as springboard to attack rights and standards in this country.
The truth is, after three years this government still hasn’t found an answer to solving the issue of the Irish border and the Good Friday Agreement.
Where once the Government was committed to having no border in Ireland, they are now proposing two borders – ripping up the UK/EU joint report from December 2017. So can the Prime Minister confirm the Government has now abandoned their commitment to the people of Northern Ireland that they would ensure there is “no physical infrastructure or related checks and controls on the island of Ireland”?
Mr Speaker, while EU leaders have been lukewarm, the response from businesses in Northern Ireland has been stark. Glyn Robert, the head of Retail NI, said the proposal would lead to north-south tariffs with “huge negative impacts” on farmers and the agri-food sector. He went on to say: “It would also mean two borders requiring renewal after four years, surveillance in border communities without their consent and checks north-south and west-east.” Tina McKenzie, the chair of the Federation of Small Businesses for Northern Ireland, was absolutely clear. She said: “All the promises of unfettered access have been abandoned… Northern Ireland is a small business economy and this is a death knell for some of those businesses.”
Mr Speaker these plans are simply unworkable.
What we have before us is not a serious proposal to break the deadlock. Instead, these proposals are nothing more than a cynical attempt by the Prime Minister to shift the blame for his failure to deliver. We can only conclude his political advisor was telling the truth when he called negotiations with the EU “a sham”.
So can the Prime Minister give a clear answer to one question: If he doesn’t get a deal at the October Council summit, will he abide by the law of this country, the EU Withdrawal No.2 Act, and request an extension to avoid a disastrous no deal?
Mr Speaker, the Government’s proposals are neither serious nor credible.
Labour consulted with UK industry – businesses and unions – on the need for a comprehensive customs union, close single market alignment, and robust protections for workers’ rights and environmental standards. We need an extension for a serious negotiation towards the sort of deal that Labour has set out and then let the people decide: leave with a sensible deal or remain. The current proposals would damage the whole UK economy – and the Northern Irish economy especially – and would undermine the Good Friday Agreement. They would lead to a race to the bottom on workers’ rights, environmental rights, and strip back even the limited protections his predecessor had agreed to. Instead of spending the last few months building consensus in Parliament and across the EU, the Prime Minister has put forward proposals he knows won’t be acceptable either in Brussels or Westminster, and that would damage UK industry, people’s jobs and living standards.
The only people who won’t suffer are the Prime Minister’s hedge fund donors who are currently betting against the pound and running down our fragile economy. He is doing nothing but seeking to divide, and risking this country’s future for his own political gain and an America-First deal with President Trump.
The proposals are unrealistic and damaging and will – as I think the Prime Minister knows – be rejected in Brussels, in this House, and in the country.