“Not one single word has changed” – Corbyn’s speech ahead of second Brexit deal vote

Below is the full text of Jeremy Corbyn’s speech today in the debate on the EU withdrawal motion in the House of Commons.

After three months of running down the clock the Prime Minister has, despite extensive delays, achieved not a single change to the Withdrawal Agreement. Not one single word has changed. In terms of the substance, literally nothing has changed.

On 29 January, the Prime Minister backed the amendment in the name of the Hon member for Altrincham & Sale West, calling for the backstop “to be replaced with alternative arrangements”.

On 12 February, the Prime Minister said the government was seeking three potential changes to the backstop: a “legally binding time limit”, “a legally binding unilateral exit clause” or “the ideas put forward by the Alternative Arrangements Working Group”. There is no unilateral exit mechanism, there is no time limit and there are no alternative arrangements.

So let us be clear. The Withdrawal Agreement is unchanged, the Political Declaration is unchanged, the joint statement is a legal interpretation of what is in the Withdrawal Agreement, and the unilateral statement is the UK government trying to fool its own backbenchers because the EU has not signed up to it.

You can fool some people some of the time but you can’t fool all the people all the time. Look closely at the government’s own motion. It is a case study in weasel words and obfuscation. It says “the legally binding joint instrument reduces the risk the UK could be deliberately held in the Northern Ireland backstop indefinitely”.

There are two key words there. Firstly it only “reduces” the risk, not eliminates the risk, so it has completely failed to achieve its goal. I have an ally in believing this to be the case. The Attorney General told the press at the weekend and I quote: “I will not change my opinion unless we have a text that shows the risk has been eliminated.” And indeed, his legal opinion today states: “the legal risk remains unchanged”.

Secondly, there is the use of the word “deliberately”. The risk that we are held in the backstop indefinitely has not been reduced, only the risk that we could be deliberately held in the backstop indefinitely. The Prime Minister has said herself on numerous occasions that the backstop is painful for both the UK and the European Union. It is something that neither side wish to see applied.

There has been no indication from the Prime Minister that there ever was a risk of being deliberately held in the backstop in the first place. Yet in her statement last night the Prime Minister said the joint instrument guarantees that the EU cannot act with the intent of applying the backstop indefinitely. The EU has never expressed this intent and neither has the Prime Minister ever accused them of having this intention.

The Prime Minister has constructed a paper tiger and has slain it. But the substance already existed through Article 178 (section 5) of the Withdrawal Agreement agreed in November. Truly, nothing has changed.

The Prime Minister also claims the joint instrument entrenches the January exchange of letters in legally binding form. On 14 January from the Despatch Box the Prime Minister told the House those letters had “legal standing” and “would have legal force in international law”.

This is smoke and mirrors. The illusion of change, when the reality is that nothing has changed. This is spin not substance.

The statement in the Attorney General’s original legal advice still holds that the backstop “would endure indefinitely until a superseding agreement takes its place” that was the case in January and it is the case today. I reiterate the view of the Attorney General, despite the theatre of the Prime Minister’s late night declaration in Strasbourg: that nothing has changed.

The Prime Minister has also attempted to convince Labour members of this House through equally empty promises about workers’ rights. She said last week in her speech in Grimsby that being aligned with the EU on workers’ rights would mean that if they lowered their standards then we would have to lower ours.

That is simply not true. EU standards are a floor not a ceiling. If the EU chose to reduce those minimum standards it would not compel the UK to lower its standards. It is important to clarify that point because I’m sure the Prime Minister has no intention to mislead anyone.

However, being aligned to those standards means that if the minimum improved the UK would be compelled to improve. That is why on this side of the House we believe there should be dynamic alignment not only on workers’ rights but on environmental protections and consumer standards.

And a Labour government would go well beyond those minimum standards on rights at work, environmental protections and consumer standards.

This was a bad deal in December when Labour decided to vote against it. It was a bad deal in January when it was rejected by the largest margin in Parliamentary history. And it is the same bad deal now. Labour will be voting against this deal for the very reasons we set out when replying to the first debate in December.

It is a bad deal that will damage our economy, undermine our industries, irreparably harm our manufacturing sector, risk our NHS, damage our public services, harm living standards because it opens up the possibility of a race to the bottom, a bonfire of rights and protections, it provides no certainty on trade and customs arrangements in the future and that will risk people’s living standards.

For the very reasons that we set out in our letter to the Prime Minister on the 6th of February:

  1. We believe there should be a permanent and comprehensive UK-EU customs union;
  2. close alignment with the single market;
  3. dynamic alignment on rights and protections;
  4. clear commitments on participation in EU agencies and funding programmes;
  5. and finally unambiguous agreements on the detail of future security arrangements.

It is because we want a Brexit that protects jobs, the economy and our industries. And those industries are suffering. Growth is slowing, manufacturing is now mired in recession, investment is drying up, jobs are going, thousands of workers are fearing for their future. The stress facing EU nationals in the UK and UK citizens in Europe is real.

We are also deciding the future of our country and each member has to answer whether they believe this deal is good for their constituents. If the deal does narrowly scrape through tonight then we believe the option to go back to the people should be retained for a confirmatory vote.

While there have been no calculations of the economic impact of the actual deal in front us, something that should shame this government, there is an estimate of the Chequers Deal which included a promise of ‘frictionless’ trade which the Prime Minister failed to deliver. But still even with that more favourable outcome the government estimates that its own deal would make our economy and the people of this country worse off.

The documents in front of us offer no clarity and no certainty. The Political Declaration says clearly this could lead to a spectrum of possible outcomes.

The 26-pages of vague waffle in the Political Declaration are a direct result of two things. The Prime Minister’s self-imposed, utterly inflexible and contradictory red lines and their utter failure to negotiate properly, to engage with members of this House or to listen to unions and businesses.

It is simply not good enough to vote for a blindfold Brexit. So Labour will vote against this deal tonight, as I urge all members of the House to do. We only have this vote tonight as we had the same vote on the same deal in January because Labour members and others voted for Parliament to have a meaningful vote.

And I pay tribute to our Shadow Brexit team, our Shadow International Trade team, Shadow Attorney General and Solicitor General who have all done so much to ensure that Parliament has proper scrutiny of this process. The right to that scrutiny to hold the Government to account and ensure the interests of our constituents is absolutely essential.

I believe there is a majority in this House for the sort of sensible credible and negotiable deal that Labour has set out. I look forward to parliament taking back control so that we can succeed where this government has so blatantly failed.

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