“Good for hedge fund managers, bad for communities” – Corbyn on Brexit bill

Below is the full text of Jeremy Corbyn’s speech on the second reading of the withdrawal agreement bill.

Mr Speaker, we warned on Saturday that, that if the House passed the government’s deal, it would be a disaster for our country. Now as we look through the detail of this Bill, we see just how right we were.

Page after page of what amounts to nothing less than a charter for deregulation and a race to the bottom. A deal and a Bill that fails to protect our rights and our natural world, fails to protect jobs and the economy, fails to protect every region and nation in the United Kingdom.

This Bill confirms that Northern Ireland is really in the Customs Union of the EU and goods will be subjected to tariffs. The Prime Minister said there would be no checks, that was Saturday, but yesterday the Brexit Secretary confirmed to the Lords European Union Committee that, under the government’s proposals, Northern Irish businesses that send goods to Great Britain will have to complete export declaration forms.

And today the government estimates that exit declaration costs will be between £15 to £56 per customs declaration. So the Prime Minister was at best, and I’m being generous here, mistaken on Saturday. And Mr Speaker, the more divergence, the harder that border will become; and the greater danger, the risk that will put, at risk the historic Good Friday Agreement.

And Mr Speaker, this deal leaves open the possibility of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal by the end of next year. No wonder Mr Speaker, that some on the Conservative benches are suddenly so keen to jump on board with this deal. It opens the door to the No Deal exit that this House has voted against on numerous occasions.

Plain and simple, this is a Charter for a Brexit that would be good for the hedge fund managers and speculators but bad for the communities that we represent, our industries, and people’s jobs and living standards. In industry after industry, from chemicals processing to car manufacturing are all deeply concerned about the way in which this Bill will operate.

And Mr Speaker, the way in which the Prime Minister is trying to blindside this Parliament to force this deal through must be challenged. This is a Bill of huge significance and complexity. It will decide the future of our country and the future of our economy and the economic model that will follow.

And to then propose a Programme Motion with all 68 clauses considered and voted on within the next 24 hours – starting this evening – is an abuse of Parliament and a blatant attempt to dodge accountability, to dodge scrutiny, to dodge any proper debate.

What their officials once said should take four weeks to properly scrutinise, they now want done in a day. All MPs should ask themselves why? So much for Parliament taking back control. Parliament is being treated as an inconvenience that can be bypassed by this government.

And Mr Speaker, there is a crucial element to this. There has been no economic impact assessment whatsoever that has been presented to this House. The Chancellor doesn’t seem to think it relevant that this Bill and their deal needs this kind of scrutiny. Even more so in light of today’s very dire public finance figures.

Again, Mr Speaker, all members of this House, on all sides, should ask themselves why? If this deal is good for our country. Why haven’t they produced a single scrap of evidence to show this is the case? The only economic evidence we can go on is the economic assessment carried out under the last Prime Minister, and that was clear.

A bare bones Free Trade Agreement, which is what this Prime Minister is promising, would dramatically hit our country’s GDP, would disproportionately hit our poorest regions and make everybody in this country worse off.

And it would lock in the existing privatisation of our National Health Service, and nothing in this Bill protects our health service or their public services from future trade deals.

So I ask again. Will the Chancellor do his job and provide this House, and this country, with a comprehensive economic impact assessment on this deal? Or, at the very least, will he do so before report stage?

Mr Speaker, the Bill before us falls hugely short in all areas. On jobs and manufacturing, this deal will reduce access to the market of our biggest trade partner and leave our manufacturers without a Customs Union.

Members across the House will have heard the desperate pleas from businesses in their constituencies all saying they need frictionless supply chains. So I ask them to do the right thing. Let’s work together to make sure a comprehensive Customs Union is hardwired into our future relationship with the EU.

On workers’ rights, by removing any level playing field provisions, the government is asking us to give them a blank cheque on rights at work. Yes. The same people who have spent their political carers rallying against the so-called burdens of employment law, want us to trust them on workers’ rights.

The provisions of the Bill mean the government merely has to inform the House if they propose to diverge from EU standards. And am I correct in understanding that no notification, let alone a vote, would be required if the measure is currently contained in secondary legislation?

These provisions fall way, way short of the Workers’ Rights (Maintenance of EU Standards) Bill put forward by my Honourable Friend for Great Grimsby.

And the TUC concluded that “the deal would not require government to maintain existing rights, would not require rights to keep pace with those across the EU, and would leave workers with a significantly reduced ability to enforce the rights they do have” and concludes “it would do nothing to improve workers rights in the UK now or in the future”.

While on the environment they talk about maintaining “world-class” environmental standards, but Mr Speaker, actions speak louder than words. So can I ask the Prime Minister instead of entrenching non-regression Environmental standards into this Bill and their deal, why has he instead taken out level playing field commitments?

I always say, Mr Speaker, on all these issues, you don’t have to take my word for it. Manufacturers and industry are deeply concerned about this deal, green groups are deeply concerned, and I challenge the Prime Minister to name a single trade union in this country that backs his deal. He knows he can’t and they’ve made their views very clear.

Mr Speaker, that isn’t all. What may be the most concerning aspect for many in this Bill comes in Clause 30. That clause makes it worryingly clear if no trade deal with the EU is agreed by the very ambitious date of December next year. Ministers can just decide to crash the UK out on WTO terms.

This, Mr Speaker, is not getting Brexit done. It is merely pushing back the very serious threat of No Deal to a later date.

Let’s be clear, as things stand this Bill spells out what is a deeply damaging deal that the Prime Minister has negotiated. And he knows it. Which is why he is trying to rush it through without proper scrutiny.

So, Mr Speaker, Labour will seek more time to scrutinise. We will seek a very clear commitment to a Customs Union, a strong single market relationship, hardwired commitments on workers’ rights, non-regression of environmental standards, and loopholes closed to avoid the threat of a No Deal Brexit once and for all.

Lastly, Mr Speaker, the Prime Minister’s deal should go back to the people and give them, not just the members of this House, the final say.

They always say, Mr Speaker, the devil is in the detail. And, having seen the detail, it confirms everything we thought about this rotten deal.

A charter for deregulation across the board, paving the way for Trump-style trade deals that will attack jobs, rights and protections, and open up our precious National Health Service and other public services for further privatisation.

That is exactly what the Prime Minister set out in his letter to the EU Commission President when he set out that alignment with EU standards “is not the goal of the current UK government”. There you have it, in his own words.

It is a vision for the future of our country that my party, the Labour Party, cannot sign up to and does not support.

And that is why we will be voting against the second reading tonight and, if that is carried, we would vote against the programmed motion to ensure that this elected House of Commons has the opportunity to properly scrutinise this piece of legislation.

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