Theresa May’s response on Tuesday to the massive defeat of her deal two weeks ago says everything about her approach to Brexit. She had an opportunity to listen to all the concerns expressed by MPs, which are shared by business and unions. When I wound up for Labour on the first day of the debate, which had been opened by the Prime Minister back on 5th December, I urged her to reach out to the majority in the Commons (read my speech here) for a sensible approach.
It was a choice between building consensus across Parliament and the country or giving in to the Tory ‘Brexit extremists’, as her Chancellor Philip Hammond described them. Yet again she chose the latter, putting her party before our country once again. Most of the 432 MPs who had opposed her deal were not primarily concerned with the Northern Ireland backstop, but with the damage her deal would do to jobs and the economy. We were ignored as she tried to unite the Tories around changes to the backstop.
The Prime Minister narrowly won Tuesday’s vote on her deal, but only by backing an amendment to seek fundamental changes to her own backstop; changes that she herself had said could not be made just two weeks ago. It’s no wonder that the EU are despairing. The backstop was not their proposal, but hers. Now she’s saying it has to be changed, but she has no specific proposals on what changes she wants.
Another two weeks will be lost before she has to come back to Parliament again. She is continuing her approach of running down the clock, in a desperate attempt to force MPs into a vote between shrinking the economy by 4% with her deal or 10% with no deal at all. Labour’s been clear from the start that the country deserves better than this ‘Hobson’s choice’. We’ve said that we would vote against any deal that did not meet our six tests; tests that were set by the Government’s own objectives and which the Prime Minister said she was determined to meet.
On Tuesday we tabled an amendment to the Government’s motion on the next steps that would have required negotiating changes to the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration to secure a permanent customs union with the EU, a strong relationship with the single market underpinned by shared institutions and obligations, and dynamic alignment on rights. It also called for legislation to enable a further referendum. This was unfortunately voted down, but we will continue to try to build a majority for it across Parliament.
There is no good Brexit outcome, but we will do all we can to secure the best possible way forward. Yesterday Jeremy Corbyn met Theresa May to press for a close economic relationship with the EU, maintaining rights and protections, and we will continue to make that case strongly over the next two weeks, until the Prime Minister comes back to Parliament. There is a deal that could be done, but it will mean her dropping the red lines that have limited negotiations and led to this damaging deal that she is so intent on pursuing.
As she struggles to secure the changes to an agreement which she said was unamendable, fears are understandably growing that we will fall out of the EU with ‘no deal’. We are working with the majority in Parliament which opposes leaving without a deal; we won the vote on Tuesday for Caroline Spelman and Jack Dromey’s amendment opposing a ‘no deal’ exit, which reaffirmed the majority for Yvette Cooper’s amendment to the Finance Bill earlier this month.
Over the next fortnight, as over the last months, we will continue to be guided by the decision of our Party Conference last September – working for close economic relationship with the EU or campaigning for a further public vote – as my colleague Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer set out in more detail in a speech recently.