Rolling coverage of the day’s political developments as they happen, including Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit speech, Theresa May’s press conference, and day two of the resumed Brexit debate
- No 10 reaches out to Labour by welcoming workers’ rights amendment
- What Mann workers’ rights amendment would actually achieve
- Corbyn says Labour may delay Brexit if it wins snap election
- Corbyn’s Brexit speech - Summary and analysis
- Japanese PM says ‘whole world’ wants UK to avoid no-deal Brexit
We’re going to wrap up this live blog now, so here’s a summary of the day’s politics news:
For his part, Coveney said his day involved meeting business leaders, trade unions, farmers’ representatives, women’s groups and other people working in the voluntary and community sector.
I have to say that, in all the meetings we have had today, there is very strong support for what the prime minister is advocating for now and I wanted to try to reinforce many of those messages.
It’s not for me to say that. The DUP have a very important constituency, they are the largest party in Northern Ireland. I respect that. But I’ve got to listen to the other political parties too and business organisations and community organisations.
I think we have a job to do to all work together here to try to navigate a way through what is a very complex and difficult negotiation.
The prime minister said earlier that she wanted her deal to go through the Commons with the support of the DUP. The DUP, however, have been busy making it clear – for anyone who remained in any doubt – that they will not support it without significant changes being made.
After the party held discussions with Ireland’s deputy leader, Simon Coveney, the DUP leader, Arlene Foster, released this statement:
The withdrawal agreement is not a fair deal and we cannot support it. It should be no more acceptable to build a new east-west border than it is to build a new north-south border.
The backstop is not needed. No one is going to build a hard border. We will work with the government to reach a better deal for the United Kingdom but this will require more pragmatism from the European Union.
In response, a Number 10 spokeswoman has said:
The claim is completely wrong. Nothing in the withdrawal agreement or our political declaration cuts across Nato, our defence or intelligence relationship with the USA or with the Five Eyes alliance.
In fact, our deal delivers the broadest security agreement the EU has with any of its partners.
In the letter, they also claim that the offer of a “new, deep and special relationship” with the EU in defence, security and intelligence “cuts across the three fundamentals of our national security policy” – including Nato membership, the US relationship and the Five Eyes intelligence alliance.
An ex-MI6 chief and a former head of the armed forces have warned that the prime minister’s Brexit deal will threaten national security if it is not defeated, according to Sky News. The letter from Sir Richard Dearlove and Field Marshal Lord Guthrie reads:
We are taking the unprecedented step of writing to all Conservative party chairmen to advise and to warn you that this withdrawal agreement, if not defeated, will threaten the national security of the country in fundamental ways. Please ensure that your MP does not vote for this bad agreement.
The first duty of the state, above trade, is the security of its citizens. The withdrawal agreement abrogates this fundamental contract and would place control of aspects of our national security in foreign hands.
MPs are debating Brexit in the Commons, where the SNP’s Mhairi Black has labeled Theresa May’s claim that MPs must choose between her deal and a no-deal Brexit a “piece of nonsense”.
Since long before the ink had even dried on the text, the prime minister has been trying to create this narrative that it’s a choice between her deal and no deal.
But the prime minister clearly has options beyond her deal and no deal: She could ask for an extension of Article 50; she could keep us in the single market and customs union; or she could take the choice back to the people.
Earlier, we mentioned the reports that the GMB’s general secretary, Tim Roache, spoke to the prime minister about her Brexit deal. Since then, he’s had this to say:
I represent 620,000 working people and it’s about time their voices were heard. After nearly three years I’m glad the prime minister finally picked up the phone.
As you would expect, I was very clear about GMB’s position – the deal on the table isn’t good enough and non-binding assurances on workers’ rights won’t cut it.
As Abe and May meet, the Department for International Trade is trumpeting a series of deals between British and Japanese firms it says will be “worth more than £200m and will help to support hundreds of jobs in the UK”.
It says the toy store, Hamleys, and the British motorcycle company, Norton, will each increase their presence in Japan and the Japanese drinks firm that owns Lucozade and Ribena will invest in the UK. Officials also say that British farmers will “now be able to export beef and lamb to Japan for the first time since the two meats were banned in 1996”.
The anti-Brexit group Best for Britain has put out this comment from the Labour MP Martin Whitfield about what Shinzo Abe had to say about a no-deal Brexit. (See 5.12pm.) Whitfield said:
It is humiliating for the prime minister to be told to her face that the whole world wants to avoid a no-deal scenario, yet she still refuses to rule it out.
Countries across the globe are looking at Britain in despair. Japan, like our other allies, understands the folly of a no-deal Brexit. Why doesn’t Theresa May?
Here is the quote from Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, where he said “the whole world” was hoping that Theresa May would avoid a no-deal Brexit. He said:
The world is watching the UK as it exits the European Union.
I would like to extend my deepest respect for the strong will and hard work by Theresa for the parliamentary approval of the withdrawal agreement.
Q: [To May] Do you think the speaker is neutral?
May says this is a matter for the Commons. MPs need to know that there is consistent interpretation of the rules.
Q: What do you think of the future economic relationship between the two countries?
Abe says there will be negotiations to start a new economic relatonship with the UK. The two countries will continue to be the closest partners respectively in Europe and Asia.
May and Abe are now taking questions.
Q: [To May] You have lost two votes in two days. And your business secretary says no deal will be a disaster. So can you rule that out? And are you still ruling out a permanent customs union?
Shinzo Abe is talking now. He says the world is watching the UK as it leaves the EU.
He says Japan welcomes the progress made in the withdrawal process. He praises May for her hardwork in relation to getting parliament to approve the deal.
That is the wish of the whole world.
Theresa May is now holding a press conference with Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister.
May is making her opening statement, celebrating the close links between the UK and Japan.
Here are are extracts from two of the more noteworthy speeches in today’s Commons Brexit debate.
Labour’s David Lammy said there was “no leftwing justification for Brexit”. He told MPs:
Brexit is a con, a trick, a swindle, a fraud, a deception that will hurt most of those people it promised to help, a dangerous fantasy which will make every problem it claims to solve worse ...
Friends on this side of the House tell me to appease Labour voters in industrial towns - the former miners, the factory workers, those who feel they’ve been left behind. I say we must not patronise them with cowardice, let’s tell them the truth - you were old a lie.
I want a deal, but as it stands I don’t want her deal... Take the backstop out and I will compromise again and reluctantly vote for the deal ...
I would rather lose my seat, honour my commitments to my constituents and preserve what integrity is left in this place than behave as so many others are, in their own self-interest.
Trudy Harrison, another Conservative MP who previously was opposed to Theresa May’s Brexit deal, has said that she will support it, ITV’s Daniel Hewitt reports.
A rare bit of good news for the PM - Tory MP Trudy Harrison, previously against her deal, has changed her mind and will now back the Withdrawal Agreement. She tells me the threat of no deal is too big to ignore.
The GMB general secretary Tim Roache took a call from Theresa May this afternoon about her Brexit deal, the BBC reports.
GMB confirm to me that their General Secretary Tim Roache took a call from the Prime Minister this afternoon about Brexit.
Labour’s Brexit plans are “bollocks”, Michael Gove, the environment secretary, told the Commons earlier. As the Press Association reports, as he opened today’s Brexit debate, Gove referred to reports that shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner had referred to one of Labour’s six Brexit tests in that way. Praising the Brent North MP’s “truth and perfect clarity”, Gove said the Commons was grateful for his casting of light on “the testicular nature” of Labour’s six Brexit tests. Gove went on:
[Gardiner] summed them up, pithily, in a word which in Spanish translates as ‘cojones’ and in English rhymes with ‘rollocks’. I know, Mr Speaker, there are some distinguished citizens in this country who have put on their cars a poster or sticker saying ‘bollocks to Brexit’ - but we now know from Labour’s own frontbench that their official Brexit position is bollocks.
I have to say that the shadow international trade secretary is a jewel and an ornament to the Labour front bench. He speaks the truth with perfect clarity, and in his description of Labour’s own policy can I say across the House we’re grateful to him, grateful to the constant Gardiner for the way in which he has cast light on the testicular nature of Labour’s position.
Labour MPs backing the workers’ rights amendment that the government is welcoming (see 9.20am) have been stressing that it is only the start of a process that could make the deal more acceptable to the opposition.
John Mann, who tabled the amendment, told the BBC that, although opposition MPs would be more likely to accept the deal if May accepted Labour’s conditions, that was not likely to happen next Tuesday. He went on:
This is the start of the process. You could reasonably say perhaps it should have been done a long time ago. But we are where we are. And there are other issues that need to be gone through, clarified.
The amendment that we’ve tabled, even though it represents progress, isn’t sufficient to give me or many other Labour MPs confidence that this will lead to the sort of close relationship economically with the EU that we need to protect jobs in our constituencies.
I’ve been saying for five months now that I would be prepared to vote for the withdrawal agreement, but Theresa May needs to get in touch with Labour on our frontbenches and backbenches, and start having this dialogue about what we need to have the confidence to vote for it.
Talking of George Freeman, he has tweeted a lovely picture from inside the Commons chamber.
Whisper it quietly .... Parliament is taking back control. A palpable outbreak in today’s debate of cross-party unity amongst sensible MPs who share both respect for the EUref result but also rejection of an ideological #NoDeal Brexit. #CountryBeforeParty pic.twitter.com/i59Rz9qIJU
Theresa May must be desperate. According to Channel 4 News’s Gary Gibbon, she has started calling trade union leaders in a bid to win more support for her Brexit deal. Until now, she has expressed precious little interest in anything they have to say. Last year Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, revealed that she had had more meetings with the German chancellor Angela Merkel than with May.
Gibbon has written up the details in a blog. Here’s an extract.
As part of a Brexit outreach, trying to work out where opinion is amongst the wider Labour movement, the PM has called Unite’s Len McCluskey and is also planning to speak to the GMB’s Tim Roache.
After her meeting with Labour MPs led by John Mann, Mrs May’s team came away with the message that few were ready to vote for her on the basis of a pledge on workers’ rights but more could be available if there was a different approach to the final Brexit deal.
Sir Nicholas Soames, the Conservative former minister who rebelled for only the second time in his 35-year parliamentary career on Tuesday to show his opposition to a no-deal Brexit, told the World at One that the government should have reached out to Labour sooner. He said:
I really do believe that our current situation of trying to deal with this in highly partisan terms is proved to be completely useless. It’s simply not working and that is because the parties are split, parliament is split, the country is split.
It is for parliament now to do its duty, in my view, and come to a cross-party agreement. I think if the government had been more effective in reaching out to the Labour party - which it should have been, earlier on - we would have made more progress.
The Conservative MP George Freeman told the Commons he would back Theresa May’s Brexit deal “with a heavy heart”. He explained:
Don’t accuse me please of Project Fear - this is serious Project Business that we serve. I will, with a heavy heart, on Tuesday vote for this deal because we’re now in the dying stages and no deal is unconscionable. But I beg colleagues to ask their front benches in pursuit of something we can all be proud of.
Eurotunnel has accused the government of “distortionary and anti-competitive” behaviour over the award of contracts worth more than £100m to provide additional cross-Channel capacity in the case of a no-deal Brexit. As the Press Association reports, Jacques Gounon, chief executive of the train operator’s parent company Getlink, wrote to the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, to voice “serious concern” about his decision to hand the work to three ferry companies. In an apparent indication that the company was considering legal action over the move, Gounon said Getlink “reserve all our rights to challenge such a measure both in the UK and France”. According to the letter, obtained by the Financial Times, Gounon said Eurotunnel’s Le Shuttle service was the “most efficient way” to supply vital goods to the UK and would remain so even if new border procedures were introduced after Brexit. A spokesman for the Department for Transport said:
The government has invested heavily to ensure disruption at our ports is minimised in a no-deal scenario, while maximising flows through Eurotunnel and Dover continues to be our highest priority.
The contracts agreed with ferry companies are entirely compliant with UK law and represent just one element of our sensible contingency work.
Here is David Miliband, the Labour former foreign secretary, on Jeremy Corbyn’s speech. (See 2.05pm.)
Jeremy Corbyn says the real divide is many/few not remain/leave. But remain v leave has CRITICAL impact on many/few divide. Leave is a sluice gate to a more unequal and poorer Britain. There is no #brexit for the many.
Dave Ward, the general secretary of the CWU union, has joined union colleagues (see 11.06am) in dismissing the government offer on workers’ rights today (see 9.20am) as meaningless.
At no point in the last two and a half years has the Prime Minister asked to speak to anyone at the CWU about protecting workers rights after Brexit. There is no clearer signal of her priorities than this.
The old motto remains as true as always - when it comes to workers rights, you can never trust a Tory. This latest development is nothing other than a pathetic last-ditch attempt to win a handful of votes for May’s disastrous withdrawal agreement.
Any Labour MP considering siding with the government over this meaningless promise should take a hard look at themselves. The only thing that will deliver protection for the basic rights that already exist - and extend on them - will be the election of a Corbyn government.
Jeremy Corbyn is often described as a lifelong Eurosceptic. That is not wrong, but it does not fully explain Corbyn’s stance on Brexit because another point is that he is not hugely interested in the topic either. The issues that engage him are ones like poverty and human rights. All of this helps to explain why his speech on Brexit this morning was, in certain respects, something of a non-event. In relation to some questions - like when will Labour table a confidence motion, or would Labour extend article 50? - we almost ended up knowing less about Labour’s position after the speech than we did before.
But even politicians’ evasions can be interesting. And, on the plus side, the speech did reflect Corbyn’s determination to move beyond Brexit. There was an argument in it.
[If May does not agree to call an election], 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.
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 ...
People across the country, whether they voted leave or remain know that the system isn’t working for them.
Quite clearly, moving into office at a period right up against the clock, there would need to be time for that negotiation,. What Keir was doing was reflecting the practicalities of how that negotiation would be undertaken.
It’s already been quite clearly and emphatically rejected by the TUC and leading trade unions. They say it simply doesn’t guarantee the protections that we are seeking. We don’t endorse or accept what has been put forward and we agree with the TUC and the other general secretaries who have already rejected that view.
Nicola Blackwood, a former Conservative MP has been appointed as a health minister and made a life peer, Downing Street has announced. She will replace Lord O’Shaughnessy as health minister after he resigned in December citing “family circumstances”. Blackwood was a health minister until she lost her Oxford West and Abingdon seat in the 2017 general election.
Simon Coveney, Ireland’s deputy premier, has denied meddling in UK politics, insisting he has an obligation to challenge those “misrepresenting” what the Brexit deal contains. Although his comments about the importance of the Irish backstop have frequently angered Tory Brexiters, Coveney told BBC Radio Ulster that he was not interfering in British politics. He said:
I am not trying to meddle, I’m trying to be a candid friend.
There isn’t an anti-British or English bone in my body, but I believe I have an obligation in the context of the relationships between these two islands and on this island, north and south, to try to find a solution that can allow us all to live together in peace, that allows us to trade together and live normal lives as neighbours together.
In the Commons earlier John Bercow, the speaker, clashed with Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, over his decision yesterday to defy precedent and allow a vote on a procedural amendment tabled by the anti-Brexit Tory Dominic Grieve.
Leadsom, a Brexiter, told MPs this morning that the speaker’s job was to “uphold the rules that parliament has made for itself, not to arbitrarily change those rules”.
There was nothing arbitrary about the conduct of the chair yesterday.
This speaker is well aware of how to go about the business of chairing the proceedings of the House because he’s been doing so for nine and a half years.
Here is some Twitter comment on the Corbyn Brexit speech from journalists.
From the BBC’s Norman Smith
So..what did we learn from @jeremycorbyn speech.
1. Don't expect confidence vote day after PM's deal is voted down.
2. JC has no desire for a second referendum.
Jeremy Corbyn making it pretty clear that he is unkeen on a Second Referendum; extending article 50 looks like a far more attractive option for his Plan B if he can’t get his general election
Jeremy Corbyn speech headlines
- We'll go into a general election promising to renegotiate brexit (and implictly no 2 ref promise)
- Wants to bring people from both sides together (implicit discomfort with 2 ref to reverse brexit)
- Admits Labour alone can't bring down May
Corbyn clearly signalling his discomfort with a second referendum
Although this is restatement of official Labour policy, campaigners for a referendum will see it as a victory - because they feared @jeremycorbyn was about to back away from what he calls a “public vote” and start treating with @theresa_may on a Brexit compromise pic.twitter.com/JU8Ef6J9jn
Did we actually learn anything new from the Corbyn Brexit speech?
* Says Labour will vote against Brexit deal - AGAIN.
* Called for general election - AGAIN.
* Said no confidence motion will be tabled but won't say when - AGAIN.
Corbyn doesn’t answer my question at all or engage in any way about whether endorsing a second referendum would alienate voters here in Wakefield. Just restates the policy of opposing the deal and keeping options on the table.
It’s a real bind for Labour, especially in seats like this which they need to hold and win over new votes for Labour - and in seats like Morley next door which they need to gain
Read Corbyn speech - takes us no further.
BUT interesting in what it tells us about his approach - theme is: divide isn't Remain/Leave, but haves/have nots.
His team understandably don't want politics to be just Brexit - but no politician gets to choose the context they're in.
I’ve always felt it was really important to look at the reasons WHY people voted the way they did in the referendum. Jeremy Corbyn is one of the few politicians I’ve heard who has properly articulated this.
Meanwhile, my colleague Dan Sabbagh has posted this from the Downing Street lobby briefing.
Downing St outlining it believes that if May's deal is voted down, the Plan B debate outlined under Grieve will only be 90min long and there will be only one amendment. That won't be popular...
Q: Many Labour members want the party to promise a second referendum if there is an election. Do you have reservations about that?
Corbyn says at the Labour conference the party adopted a sequential policy, calling for a vote against May’s vote, then a general election, and if that can’t happen potentially a popular vote.
Corbyn says accepting May’s deal would lock the UK into a process that would not be a good one.
Q: Will you call a no confidence vote next week?
Corbyn says the vote next week could be the third defeat for the government in a week. This is a government that cannot command a majority in the Commons. Labour will move a no confidence motion “at a time of our choosing”, when it judges there is best chance of success, he says.
Corbyn is now taking questions.
Q: If you do get a general election, what will Labour’s Brexit policy be?
Corbyn is now winding up.
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.
Corbyn confirms Labour would continue to match EU standards on workers’ rights after Brexit.
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.
Corbyn restates his call for the UK to be in a customs union with the EU after Brexit.
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.
Corbyn renews his call for a general election if Theresa May loses the vote on her deal on Tuesday next week. (See 11.12am.)
And he says, if there is no election, Labour will table a no confidence motion when it thinks it has the best chance of winning.
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.
Jeremy Corbyn is speaking now.
He thanks Laura Pidcock for her introduction. And he welcomes Richard Burgon, the shadow justice secretary, who is also here. And he said Burgon did well in his media interviews this morning - so well that the Tories have gone into overdrive attacking him, he says.
The Labour MP Laura Pidcock is introducing Jeremy Corbyn.
She says in Wakefield people voted overwhelmingly for Brexit.
Jeremy Corbyn is about to deliver his Brexit speech in Wakefield.
Here are two extracts released in advance.
Let there be no doubt: Theresa May’s deal is a bad deal and Labour will vote against it next week in parliament.
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. So I say to Theresa May: if you are so confident in your deal, call that election, and let the people decide.
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, create the wealth and pay taxes, and the few, who set the rules, reap the rewards and so often dodge taxes.
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 accessing food banks. You’re up against it.
Union leaders have dismissed the government’s announcement that it could accept the Mann amendment on workers’ rights. (See 9.20am and 10.52am.) This is from Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the TUC.
This amendment makes no change to a bad deal for working people’s jobs and rights.
We’ve been clear that what working people need is a long-term, binding guarantee that their rights will keep pace with those across Europe. The amendment doesn’t deliver that. It doesn’t even provide an adequate guarantee for the rights we already have.
The government has systematically refused to engage with trade unions over workers’ rights and is now trying to buy off MPs with legally unenforceable tweaks that are not worth the paper they are written on.
These assurances are meaningless at best, and at worst a cynical attempt to use workers’ rights as a bargaining chip for self-preservation.
Here is the full text of the John Mann workers’ rights amendment (see 9.20am) to the motion backing the government’s Brexit deal. It says:
At end, add “agrees with paragraph 79 of the political declaration that the future relationship must ensure open and fair competition and that provisions to ensure this should cover state aid, competition, social and employment standards, environmental standards, climate change, and relevant tax matters, building on the level playing field arrangements provided for in the withdrawal agreement and commensurate with the overall economic relationship; and determines not to allow the UK leaving the EU to result in any lowering after exit day of common EU UK standards provided for in the withdrawal agreement in relation to employment, environmental protection and health and safety which will continue to protect the wellbeing of every person in this country; and determines that the government should invite the House to consider any measure approved by EU institutions after exit day which strengthens any of these protections.
Greg Clark, the business secretary, has been giving a series of interviews this morning, and he has also written an article for Politico Europe. As well as signalling that the government will support the John Mann workers’ rights amendment (see 9.20am), here are the other points he has been making.
Parliament can establish that it wants a no-deal Brexit to be ruled out. Most MPs, across the House, including many in government, would not countenance leaving on March 29 with no agreement.
I would always work and fight to make sure that the policy of the government is to have a good deal, to avoid what I think would be a disaster which would be no deal.
It is my strong view that we need to come together. We need to act to avoid a no-deal because I don’t think there is anything remotely like a majority in parliament that will tolerate this.
I have said in public and in discussions that to establish what parliament wants and what parliament supports can be a useful step.
You need, it seems to me, to move from parliament being just a scrutineer but to be active participants, and that means discovering parliament’s mind.
Greg Clark, the business secretary, has indicated that the government will back a Labour amendment to the motion approving the government’s Brexit deal guaranteeing workers’ rights. As the Daily Mirror reports, the amendment has been tabled by Labour MPs, and the government is welcoming it in the hope of getting some Labour MPs to back May’s deal.
Asked about it on Sky News this morning, Clark said:
It seems to me, if you want to come together with an agreement, you’ve got to listen to all sides. When it comes to workers’ rights, Theresa May has always been very clear that she believes in our strong tradition of workers’ rights ... The Labour party introduced the minimum wage, the Conservative party introduced the national living wage ...
This amendment has been put down by a number of Labour MPs. It seems to be consonant with the cross-party view that has prevailed for decades now, that we should be strengthening workers’ rights in this country ... We have not come to the debate yet, but [the prime minister] has said, rightly in my view, that we will look at it with sympathy.
When it comes to the crunch I don’t trust the Conservatives on workers’ rights. Even the noises that are being made in the press by the Conservatives don’t mean any such agreement would be legally binding when it comes to protecting workers’ rights.Continue reading...