Below is the full text of Jeremy Corbyn’s speech on Brexit in the Commons today.
Thank you Mr Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak in this debate. It is important to start by reminding us all that this whole process was only secured in the teeth of opposition from the government. So I start by paying tribute to those MPs who voted with us for parliament to have a full democratic role in the Brexit process and especially therefore to the Hon member for Beaconsfield.
Labour has been absolutely clear from the start that there must be a meaningful vote on any negotiated deal and that should a deal be defeated in parliament as it was, decisively, then Parliament must have a say on how the government proceeds. This is a vital issue that affects the future direction of our country and the futures facing all of our constituents.
It determines the jobs and living standards of our people, the rights of EU citizens living in Britain who have been stressed by this situation as have British citizens living in Europe, and our place in the world and our participation and co-operation in Europe-wide projects on issues as vital as security, counter-terrorism and climate change.
Our job must be to bring people together. No matter how anyone in this House campaigned in the referendum we cannot wish away the votes of 17 million people who voted to leave, any more than we can ignore the concerns of 16 million who voted to remain. It is therefore right that members of this House represent their constituents to decide the way forward in implementing the result of the referendum.
But in delivering that result we have to unite people, not create further divisions or stoke further xenophobia and racism. Many communities across this country have been neglected for too long, lacking decent investment with too few secure and well-paid jobs and industry. Those are not issues that face Britain alone but would be recognisable to communities across Europe where there are many of the same problems.
The first duty we have is to vote to block a disastrous ‘no deal’ and I hope amendments to that effect pass later this evening. Labour’s amendment, which stands in my name and those of my colleagues, starts by calling for sufficient time for parliament to vote on options to prevent leaving without a deal.
But whatever happens in the votes that follow it has now become inevitable that the government will have to extend Article 50 in any scenario. If amendments intended to rule out ‘no deal’ are defeated and if this government is serious about keeping the threat of ‘no deal’ on the table, then it is not even close to being prepared and the exit date would have to be extended.
And even if the Prime Minister’s deal were to somehow achieve a majority in this House next month, there is no chance that the necessary legislation, primary legislation and an extensive catalogue of secondary legislation – I believe 600 statutory instruments – could clear this place between now and the 29th March.
The fault for that lies exclusively with the Prime Minister who missed her own deadline to have a deal agreed by October and then delayed the debate on it by one month, and still she suffered the worst defeat by any government ever in British history.
And one wonders how many more ceremonial baubles or promises of ermine will be handed out in vain in an attempt to cajole Conservative members that the deal this House overwhelmingly rejected is actually OK? The Prime Minister says a second referendum would be like asking the public to vote again until they give the right answer but so far that is precisely what she is asking this House to do.
Mr Speaker, Labour will today back amendments that attempt to rule out this Government’s reckless option of allowing the UK to crash out without a deal. Everyone bar the Prime Minister accepts this would be disastrous. The CBI says that: “The projected impact of ‘no deal’ on the UK economy would be devastating”. Just yesterday the Federation of Small Business called on members of this House to block ‘no deal’. And, the TUC representing millions of workers is opposed to ‘no deal’, as its General Secretary reiterated to me last week.
Every opposition party in this House is opposed to ‘no deal’. Many members opposite and even frontbench and Cabinet members opposite are opposed to ‘no deal’. Let me quote the Chancellor who said recently: “I clearly do not believe that making a choice to leave without a deal would be a responsible thing to do”, so he presumably wants ‘no deal’ ruled out. The Home Secretary has gone further and called for a free vote on the amendment tabled by my Rt Hon friend for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford.
The Labour Party will back that amendment tonight because to crash out without a deal would be deeply damaging for industry and economy. That’s why the Chancellor says it would be irresponsible. I say to my Rt Hon friend now that in backing her amendment, we are backing a short window of 3 months to allow time for renegotiation.
It will not be any comfort to say ‘I told you so’ when the lorries are backing up on the M20, when cancer patients can’t get medicines and when prices are rising in the shops. So tonight we have the opportunity to take ‘no deal’ off the table.
When the Prime Minister invited party leaders for talks, I said the Prime Minister must first remove the threat of ‘no deal’. If the House today votes to remove the immediate threat of crashing out without a deal on 29 March, then I will be happy to meet with the Prime Minister to discuss a sensible solution that works for the whole country.
Many of the amendments tabled including those in the names of my Hon Friends for Leeds West and for Birmingham Erdington with the Hon member for Meriden advocate delaying Article 50, to give parliament more time to break the impasse and avoid the dangers of ‘no deal’. If this House votes for any of those amendments, then the Prime Minister must accept that an extension to Article 50 is a responsible measure, to allow time for real renegotiation to find a deal that can win the support of this House.
It will mean that ‘no deal’ is off the table and the red lines must change. The primary part of Labour’s amendment tonight is about finding that workable solution. That means a comprehensive new customs union, a strong single market deal and no race to the bottom on workers’ rights, environmental protections and consumer standards.
And the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has been clear: “Unanimously the European Council have always said that if the UK chooses to shift its red lines in the future and to go beyond a simple free trade agreement then the EU will be immediately ready to give a favourable response.”
And, we understand that just this weekend the EU Commission President (Jean-Claude Juncker) told the Prime Minister that accepting the case for a permanent customs union would help to solve the issue of the backstop arrangement. Indeed, Ireland’s Europe Minister made exactly this point at the weekend, saying that “The backstop is there because of the red lines put down by the UK at the beginning.”
Today we understand the government is backing the amendment in the name of the Right Hon member for Altrincham & Sale West, requiring changes to the backstop, but still we have no clarity on what changes they are or which red lines will change to allow that to happen. On the other side we see that there is flexibility, an apparent willingness now to renegotiate, but only if the red lines change.
With her deal defeated two weeks ago, the Prime Minister is still to answer the question as to which of her red lines she is prepared to change, or even be flexible on. So it is clear the obstacle to a solution is the Prime Minister. She is refusing to accept the clearly stated will of this House, which has decisively defeated her deal and is equally clear in its opposition to a disastrous ‘no deal’, which I hope will be reiterated tonight.
In the absence of any leadership from the Prime Minister, solutions are being put forward across this House. Those advocating a Norway Plus or Common Market two-point-zero have worked on a cross-party basis, and I pay tribute to the hon members for Grantham & Stamford, Harlow, Aberavon, and Manchester Central. They are clear that not only do we need full access to the Single Market but a customs union too.
So that is why a new comprehensive and permanent customs union has long been Labour’s policy. It is a pragmatic solution that helps to deliver the Brexit that people voted for, to deliver the frictionless trade that the Prime Minister once promised, that helps to deliver a solution to the Irish backstop, and that helps to deliver a majority in this House for a deal.
So far the Prime Minister has only doubled down on her own defeated deal, saying last week at PMQs that her deal delivers “the benefits of a customs union and the benefits of our own trade policy”. It does no such thing. The Political Declaration fails to deliver on the Chequers promise of frictionless trade. It does not even guarantee tariff-free trade, it means we lose the 40 to 50 trade agreements we have through the EU and which the International Trade Secretary has so far failed to replicate, despite his earlier bold claims.
This is a government in denial, split from top to bottom, and incapable of uniting themselves, let alone the country. They are in denial about the majority view of this House that I believe exists to rule out ‘no deal’, and to get a workable deal that includes a customs union. That is why Labour will tonight back amendments that give this House the opportunity to recognise the reality that this government has so far failed to do.
This government’s shambolic handling of Brexit negotiations is fast becoming a crisis that is worrying businesses, workers, and everyone, because we have no leadership from government. No leadership from a government that has demonstrated it has no ability to negotiate a good deal, no willingness to listen to parliament, and crucially no acceptance that they must change course.
They spent most of the last two years arguing amongst themselves rather than negotiating with the EU, and still they’re arguing amongst themselves and failing to come up with a workable solution. Tonight I hope this House does its job, and leads where this Government has failed.