Jeremy Corbyn set out Labour’s Brexit policy in a major speech in Wakefield on 10th January.
It’s a pleasure to be here in Wakefield and thank you to OE Electrics for kindly hosting us.
We are now two and a half years on from the EU referendum and we are finally reaching the moment when the House of Commons will have its say on Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
In those two and a half years many of the most pressing problems facing people in their daily lives, here in Yorkshire and across the country, have been ignored or relegated to the back of the queue by a Conservative Party consumed by its own internal battles over Brexit.
Years of Tory failure have left our society more divided than ever: Poverty is growing, homelessness is up, personal debt is rising and crime is up too. The truth is, the real divide in our country is not between those who voted to Remain in the EU and those who voted to Leave. It is between the many – who do the work, who create the wealth and pay their taxes, and the few – who set the rules, who reap the rewards and so often dodge taxes.
The Conservative Party’s main concern, as ever is to protect the interests of the few and is prepared to set everybody else against each other divide and rule style to stay in power.
That’s why at every turn during the Brexit negotiations the Prime Minister has acted in ways that have exacerbated division.
In fact her only success in bringing people together has been to unite both people who voted leave and those who voted remain against her botched and damaging deal.
Now she is facing the inevitable consequence of that failure, defeat in the House of Commons.
Let there be no doubt. Theresa May’s deal is a bad deal for our country and Labour will vote against it next week in Parliament.
And remember, the only reason Parliament is having what has become known as the meaningful vote is because Labour secured that concession from the government.
I would like to pay tribute to Keir Starmer and his team for all their hard work throughout this process.
If the government cannot pass its most important legislation then there must be a general election at the earliest opportunity.
A government that cannot get its business through the House of Commons is no government at all.
It has lost its mandate so must go to the country to seek another. And the government defeat on Tuesday, after the amendment put down by Yvette Cooper was passed, is the first time a government has been defeated on a Finance Bill since 1978.
So I say to Theresa May: if you are so confident in your deal then call that election and let the people decide.
If not, Labour will table a motion of no confidence in the government at the moment we judge it to have the best chance of success.
Clearly, Labour does not have enough MPs in parliament to win a confidence vote on its own.
So members across the House should vote with us to break the deadlock.
This paralysis cannot continue. Uncertainty is putting people’s jobs and livelihoods at risk. And if a general election cannot be secured then we will keep all options on the table, including the option of campaigning for a public vote.
But an election must be the priority. It is not only the most practical option, it is also the most democratic option.
It could give the winning party a renewed mandate to negotiate a better deal for Britain and secure support for it in Parliament and across the country.
Defeat for the government’s central policy on Tuesday would be historic.
It would not only signal the failure of Theresa May’s premiership but the failure of the Conservative Party as a party of government.
This is after all a party that for decades claimed to be the natural party of government. A safe bet for the country.
Now we see the reality.
They don’t know what they’re doing. They have led us from chaos to crisis. And they have no answers or legislation to fix the many crises of their own making whether it’s the cost of living, housing, personal debt, escalating inequality, rising crime or collapsing public services.
But there are solutions to these crises and Theresa May’s botched Brexit deal is not “the only deal possible.”
It is a deal that reflects the kind of country that the Tories want to create. It should be no surprise that this Tory deal allows workers’ rights and environmental protections to fall behind minimum European basic standards.
The government boasts that this will give the UK “flexibility.”
But flexibility for whom?
Flexibility for employers to exploit workers. Flexibility for big corporations to pollute our environment.
Flexibility for multinational giants to undercut our neighbours and drive down standards everywhere.
Meanwhile Theresa May’s refusal to countenance negotiating a new customs union is based on the Tory dream of a sweetheart trade deal with Donald Trump which could deliver chlorinated chicken to our dinner tables and open up our NHS to giant profit-seeking American healthcare corporations.
Labour has very different priorities because we represent the interests of the many, not the few.
We have given voice to policies that command majority public support but which the political class has long refused to endorse such as fair taxation and new forms of public ownership.
When Labour goes into government we will support new high tech industries that will provide high wage secure jobs. And we will bring real investment and prosperity to areas such as Yorkshire and the Midlands, to Scotland and Wales which for too long have been held back by successive governments.
And so the alternative plan that Labour has set out for a sensible Brexit deal that could win broad support is designed to enable us to fulfil those ambitions while respecting the democratic result of the referendum.
Any political leader who wants to bring the country together cannot wish away the votes of 17 million people who wanted to leave, any more than they can ignore the concerns of the 16 million who voted to remain.
I know people are genuinely scared by the prospect of no deal. I meet people who are frightened and going through real stress.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the EU nationals who have enriched our society and made such a fantastic contribution to our industries and services. With Labour your future here is secure.
And I know many people were appalled at the bigotry and racism that some politicians stoked during the referendum campaign and are still trying to exploit out of the small number of desperate refugees risking their lives to cross the English Channel.
Let’s never forget that whatever circumstances people are living in whether in tents camps or trying to survive on dangerous dinghies, everyone is a human being and we must reach out the hand of humanity in all circumstances.
And that is exactly what Labour’s Home team does, led so well by Diane Abbott.
People want to live in a country that’s tolerant, that’s diverse, that’s open. We won’t let that openness, that generosity be crushed. Let’s not lower our horizons, let’s raise them up.
I also know that in many places like Wakefield, people feel they’ve been ignored. They lost industries and no one seemed to care. They’ve been robbed of their future by a lack of investment.
These are proud, generous communities that pull together and support each other. Communities that have real pride in their towns, in their cities, in their regions, but they know they could be so much more. I understand that many of them wanted to send the politicians a message in the referendum and I hear them. Labour is the party of the working class and we’ll stand up for you.
That’s why our alternative plan prioritises jobs growth and rights.
That is why we have called for a new customs union with a British say in future trade deals; a strong single market relationship; and a guarantee to keep pace with EU rights and standards.
Combined with the election of a radical Labour government our alternative plan will allow us to make the fundamental changes that are so badly needed in our country, while respecting those who voted both leave and remain.
Why is a customs union necessary?
It’s because a new customs union and a radical Labour government with an active industrial strategy will allow a renaissance in our manufacturing sector, which will create good, secure jobs and help restore pride and prosperity to parts of our country that have been ignored for too long.
Why do we need a strong relationship with the single market?
It’s because frictionless trade and a radical Labour government with a plan to invest in every region and nation of our country, will give us the chance to kick-start real growth in our economy, allowing the wealth created by this country’s workforce to be shared more fairly.
Finally, why are we absolutely insistent on at least keeping pace with EU rights at work environmental standards and consumer protections? It’s because with those guarantees and a radical Labour government that stands up for people against powerful vested interests, we can give workers and consumers more control over their lives.
The alternative deal Labour has proposed is practical and achievable, and clearly has the potential to command majority support in parliament.
But it is not an end in itself. The task of the Labour party and the Labour movement is the long-overdue transformation of our country.
We will bring people together by addressing the deep-seated and common problems across our country and fulfilling the aspirations that led people to vote both leave or remain.
I would put it like this: if you’re living in Tottenham you may well have voted to Remain. You’ve got high bills rising debts. You’re in insecure work. You struggle to make your wages stretch and you may be on universal credit, and forced to access food banks.
You’re up against it.
If you’re living in Mansfield, you are more likely to have voted to Leave. You’ve got high bills, rising debts, you’re in insecure work, you struggle to make your wages stretch and you may be on universal credit and forced to access food banks.
You’re up against it.
But you’re not against each other.
People across the country, whether they voted Leave or Remain know that the system isn’t working for them.
Some see the EU as a defence against insecurity and hostility. Others see the EU as part of an establishment that plunged them into insecurity and hostility in the first place.
But it’s the failed system rigged against the many to protect the interests of the few that is the real cause of inequality and insecurity whether it’s in Tottenham or Mansfield.
And, the real solution is to transform Britain to work in the interests of the vast majority by challenging the entrenched power of a privileged elite.
That is how we can help to overcome our country’s divisions.
Because for both sides the EU referendum was about much more than our relationship with our biggest trading partner and its rules.
It was about what has happened to our people over decades and how to build a better future.
The Conservatives are never going to tackle the burning injustices in our country or act to overcome the deep and growing inequalities.
They are incapable of leading us out of a crisis they created.
Britain deserves a government that can govern.
The need for a government with a clear purpose and direction for the country could not be more urgent.
A general election is the right answer and the best way to break the deadlock.
Labour is ready to bring Leave and Remain voters together to rebuild Britain for the many not the few.