What Jeremy Corbyn said about Brexit in his Labour Conference speech

What Jeremy Corbyn said about Brexit in his Labour Conference speech

There’s no bigger test in politics right now than Brexit, an incredibly important and complex process, that cannot be reduced to repeating fairy stories from the side of a bus or waiting 15 months to state the obvious. As democratic socialists, we accept and respect the referendum result, but respect for a democratic decision does not mean giving a green light to recklessness – a Tory Brexit agenda that would plunge Britain into a Trump-style race-to-the-bottom in rights and corporate taxes.

We’re not going to be passive spectators to a hopelessly inept negotiating team putting at risk people’s jobs, rights and living standards. A team more interested in posturing for personal advantage than in getting the best deal for the country. To be fair, Theresa May’s speech in Florence last week did unite the cabinet. For a few hours until her plane touched down at Heathrow before the divisions broke out again.

Never before was the national interest so ill-served on such a vital issue. If there was no other reason for the Tories to go, their self-interested Brexit bungling would be reason enough. So I have a simple message to the Cabinet: for Britain’s sake, pull yourself together or make way.

One thing needs to be made clear straight away. The three million EU citizens currently living and working in Britain are welcome here. They have been left under a cloud of insecurity by this government when their future could have been settled months ago. So Theresa May, please, if you’re watching, and I’m sure you are, give them the full guarantees they deserve today, because if you don’t, we will, when we’re in Government.

Since the referendum result our Brexit team has focused above all on our economic future. That future is now under real threat. A powerful faction in the Conservative leadership sees Brexit as their chance to create a tax haven on the shores of Europe: a low-wage, low tax deregulated playground for hedge funds and speculators. A few at the top would do very very nicely out of this, no question at all. But manufacturing industries would go to the wall, taking skilled jobs with them, our tax base would crumble, our public services would be slashed still further.

We are now less than 18 months away from leaving the European Union. And so far, the Tory trio leading the talks have got nowhere and agreed next to nothing. This rag-tag Cabinet spends more time negotiating with each other than they do with the EU. A cliff-edge Brexit is at risk of becoming a reality. That’s why Labour has made clear that Britain should stay within the basic terms of the single market and customs union for a limited transition period. It is welcome at least that Theresa May has belatedly accepted that.

But beyond that transition, our task is a different one. It’s to unite everyone in our country around a progressive vision of what Britain could be, but with a government that stands for the many not the few.

Labour is the only party that can bring together those who voted Leave and those who backed Remain and unite the country for a future beyond Brexit. What matters in the Brexit negotiations is to achieve a settlement that delivers jobs, rights and decent living standards.

Conference, the real divide over Brexit could not be clearer. A shambolic Tory Brexit driving down standards. Or ours that puts jobs first and works for the many, one that guarantees unimpeded access to the single market and establishes a new co-operative relationship with the EU.

A Brexit that uses powers returned from Brussels to support a new industrial strategy to upgrade our economy in every region and nation. One that puts our economy first, not fake immigration targets that fan the flames of fear. We will never follow the Tories into the gutter of blaming migrants for the ills of society. It isn’t migrants who drive down wages and conditions but the worst bosses in collusion with a Conservative government. They never miss a chance to attack trade unions and weaken people’s rights at work.

Labour will take action to stop employers driving down pay and conditions, not pander to scapegoating or racism. This whole issue is too important to be left to the Conservatives and their internal battles and their identity crises.

Labour will hold the Government’s squabbling ministers to account every step of the way. And, with our team, Keir Starmer, Emily Thornberry and Barry Gardiner – thank you for all you do – they are literally standing ready to take over whenever this government fails. When they fail to negotiate a new relationship with Europe that works for all, and to help create a Europe for the many for the future – that is our mission.