Below is the full text of Jeremy Corbyn’s response to the Prime Minister’s Brexit statement in the House of Commons this afternoon.
Our country is facing the biggest crisis in a generation, and yet this Prime Minister continues to recklessly run down the clock. We were promised there would be a deal last October – that didn’t happen. We were promised a meaningful vote on a deal in December – that didn’t happen. We were told to prepare for a further meaningful vote this week after the Prime Minister again promised to secure “significant and legally binding” changes to the backstop and that hasn’t happened.
Now the Prime Minister comes before this House with more excuses and more delays. In her statement the Prime Minister has failed to answer even the most basic questions: What progress has she made on identifying and working up the alternative arrangements? Have they been presented to the EU? If not when will they be? And will she set them out before this House and ask for its approval of them?
In truth it appears the Prime Minister has just one real tactic: to run down the clock hoping Members of this House are blackmailed into supporting a deeply flawed deal. This is an irresponsible act. She is playing for time and playing with people’s jobs, our economic security and the future of our industry.
Yesterday growth figures show the lowest growth since 2012. Our manufacturing sector is mired in recession. The decision by Nissan last week to pull its investment from its Sunderland plant may only be the thin end of the wedge.
The Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Business Secretary will be hearing the same warnings as I am – that several more large manufacturers, household names employing tens of thousands of people, are poised to follow in Nissan’s footsteps.
Earlier today we heard from the Leader of the House that the next meaningful vote may not happen until after the EU summit on the 21st March, just days before Brexit. If that is not the case, can the Prime Minister tell the House today when the meaningful vote will be?
We also learned from the Leader of the House that any changes to the backstop won’t be written into the legally-binding Withdrawal Agreement. Can the Prime Minister confirm that?
Is the Prime Minister really prepared to risk people’s livelihoods, jobs and investment in a vain attempt to push her deeply flawed deal through Parliament?
The Prime Minister has just told members of this House to hold their nerve. Tell that to Nissan workers in Sunderland and the thousands more worried about their job security.
Mr Speaker, no minister serious about protecting jobs in this country would allow a Prime Minister to deliberately run down the clock and play chicken with people’s livelihoods. To stand by and do nothing would be a complete dereliction of duty.
As I received the Prime Minister’s letter yesterday in response to Labour’s Brexit plan it became clearer to me that the Prime Minister is merely engaged in the pretence of working across Parliament to find solutions. She has not indicated she will move one iota away from her rejected deal or any of her red lines.
On the backstop the Prime Minister has pointed out Labour also has concerns. But let’s make no mistake about it – that has never been our major issue with the Prime Minister’s deal.
Indeed in order to stop the UK falling into the backstop you need a permanent customs union and a strong single market deal. That is key to maintaining an open border on the island of Ireland. That is key to protecting jobs, industry and living standards in this country.
And that is why it’s backed by businesses who employ and trade unions who represent millions of workers in this country.
The Prime Minister says there is no need to negotiate a customs union as her deal provides for the benefits of being in one. I’m afraid, Mr Speaker, that is simply not the case. The deal the Prime Minister negotiated means there will be barriers to trade in goods and there will not be frictionless trade. Putting manufacturers across the country at a huge disadvantage.
This is made quite clear in the Political Declaration. Especially when it says and I quote: ‘the parties will form separate markets and distinct legal orders.’ And concedes that it ‘can lead to a spectrum of different outcomes for administrative processes as well as checks and controls’ nothing is secured.
The Prime Minister is also trying to win support for her deal by promising to protect workers’ rights after Brexit. But just look at the record of the party opposite. They attacked trade union rights through the Trade Union Act, opposed the minimum wage, introduced employment tribunal fees and the public sector pay cap. For many of them, ripping up rights is what Brexit is all about.
Take the Secretary of State for International Trade. He once wrote: “It is too difficult to hire and fire, and too expensive to take on new employees. It is intellectually unsustainable to believe that workplace rights should remain untouchable.”
No wonder trade union leaders like Tim Roache of the GMB and Frances O’Grady of the TUC have rejected the Prime Minister’s inadequate pledges. And it is vital too that we keep pace with the best consumer safeguards and environmental protections especially in light in the biodiversity report this week.
Mr Speaker there is a sensible way forward but the Prime Minister is refusing to listen. Labour’s alternative has been widely welcomed as a way of breaking the impasse. From business leaders, EU leaders and even some Conservative members. But the Prime Minister refuses to listen.
Mr Speaker I urge all members across this House to think about the damage the Prime Minister’s strategy is doing – the threat to industry and skilled jobs in communities across Britain. Now is not the time to stand idly by, now is the time to stand up and do the right thing: to rule out No Deal and back Labour’s alternative plan.