Corbyn challenges May to achieve ‘jobs’ and ‘rights’ Brexit or stand aside

Ben Wray

Party conference sees battle over Brexit stance

JEREMY CORBYN has closed the UK Labour conference by challenging Prime Minister Theresa May to negotiate a Brexit that served workers’ rights or stand down.

The Labour leader emphasised a General Election and a Labour negotiated exit from the EU after a conference that had seen intense negotiations over the party’s attitude to Brexit and the possibility of a second vote.

Addressing the PM from the conference hall he said: “But let me also reach out to the Prime Minister, who is currently doing the negotiating.

“Brexit is about the future of our country and our vital interests. It is not about leadership squabbles or parliamentary posturing. If you deliver a deal that includes a customs union and no hard border in Ireland, if you protect jobs, people’s rights at work and environmental and consumer standards – then we will support that sensible deal. A deal that would be backed by most of the business world and trade unions too.

“But if you can’t negotiate that deal then you need to make way for a party that can.”

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The tone of the comments steer against a speech made the day before by Keir Starmer MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, who told conference that the party’s “preference” was an election.

However, he also said: “But if that’s not possible we must have other options. And conference that must include campaigning for a public vote…and nobody is ruling out remain as an option”.

With a composite motion passed at conference leaving the door open to a range of options on how the party should deal with Brexit, including the possibility of a second referendum on a range of different outcomes, there is now likely to emerge a battle of interpretation, with the left around Corbyn fighting for an election and centrist factions fighting for a second vote on remaining in the EU.

Corbyn also covered a range of radical proposals in his speech, including reiterating shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s plans to increase worker membership on the boards of large companies and the establishment of a special fund to accumulate equity for workers up to a 10 per cent stake.

In the speech, Corbyn also claimed a Labour Government would create “hundreds of thousands of jobs” through new low carbon industries.

Responding to the speech, Patrick Harvie MSP, the Scottish Greens’ co-convener, said: “Jeremy Corbyn’s plans to reduce greenhouse gases are certainly more ambitious than the Scottish Government’s and must act as a wakeup call to the SNP, which is increasingly out of touch with the international consensus, to go further, sooner.

“However, what we heard from Labour was also a denial of the fundamental threat of Brexit and voters in Scotland have no certainty that Jeremy Corbyn offers an escape from this path to destruction.

“The only party in Scotland that is unmistakably campaigning for both a zero-carbon economy and for an independent Scotland in the European Union is the Scottish Greens.”

The party conference was also marked by comments by Scottish leader Richard Leonard that he would oppose Scotland’s right to hold a future Scottish independence referendum.

Commenting, Ian Blackford MP said: “Labour have proven they have nothing to offer Scotland but economic chaos and incompetence – failing to provide any meaningful alternative to the Tories.

“Jeremy Corbyn may have been forced into saying he would not accept a no-deal Brexit – but he remains committed, like the Tories, to taking Scotland out of the EU against our will.

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“That reckless plan to drag Scotland off a hard Brexit cliff edge, outside the single market and customs union, would deal a huge body blow to the Scottish economy – destroying jobs, and causing lasting harm to the incomes and living standards of millions of people.

“While Labour have pinched policies wholesale from the SNP government, they have forgotten about how they would afford them – with a self-inflicted multi-billion pound Brexit black hole making a mockery of their spending plans.

“Labour were the architects of a decade of failed austerity cuts, and their hard Brexit plans now threaten to leave the whole country poorer and worse off for decades to come.

“After a bitterly divided conference, dominated by rows over Brexit, racism, and sectarianism, Labour have shown they aren’t even fit for opposition let alone government.

“By threatening to block Scotland’s democratic right to hold a future independence referendum, Labour are demonstrating the same old arrogant and ignorant approach that has alienated their traditional supporters and will see them decline further into irrelevance.”

Picture courtesy of Garry Knight