The Alternative Labour Conference Speech

Dateline 27th September 2017: This is the speech we at CoN Towers think Jeremy Corbyn should deliver on the subject of Brexit…

Last year, the British people voted by a small majority to leave the European Union.

In voting to support the triggering of Article 50 and so start the process of withdrawal, the Labour Party has respected the referendum result. We have given the Government every opportunity to negotiate our departure from the EU in a way that fulfilled the promises of the Leave campaign.

The Government have failed.

We were told it would be simple. In fact it has proven fiendishly complex to unpick forty years of union, and our Government are not up to the task. We face an undertaking that would challenge the most formidable of politicians, and into the breach have been sent the most hapless politicians in a century. Short of ideas, bereft of humility, and lacking even the barest understanding of the task facing them, the Government have resorted to demanding the impossible.

They demand all the myriad benefits of membership of the EU, but with none of the responsibilities. The EU have always been clear that these are demands they cannot meet and, now this has been demonstrated at the negotiating table, our representatives resort to bluster and hollow threats. They threaten a cliff-edge Brexit that will cause us immense harm, like a bank robber threatening to shoot off his own foot. They threaten to cut off the security and police cooperation that help keep us safe, and they hold hostage the 3 million EU nationals who have made homes and lives in the UK.

Every promise made for Brexit has been shown now to be false.

We were told we would take back our sovereignty, that we would take back control. Instead we face a future where – in order to trade – we will have to accept rules and compromises in which we have little or no say.

Instead of sovereignty we have the EU Withdrawal Bill, a cynical attempt by the government to seize power from your elected representatives, from the British public. Behind your backs and behind closed doors, the Government seeks to rewrite the laws of the land in its favour, even to put itself beyond the reach of the law. Hard-line Brexiters see the opportunity for a bonfire of laws and regulations. These laws and regulations protect the food we eat and the air we breathe. Recent tragic events have shown the need not just for effective regulation, but for effective enforcement. Here we see an attempt to make the Government unaccountable, make businesses and slum landlords unaccountable to their customers and their tenants, and to tear up employee protections built up over a century.

So much for taking back control.

We were told we would get control of immigration. Never mind that the Government failed to use the immigration controls already at its disposal, now businesses and the NHS are lining up to tell us that we depend on immigrants to deliver health and social care, to pick our crops and work in our schools and universities. We are facing a post-Brexit workforce crisis, with broken services and empty shelves in the shops.

We were told the world would be beating a path to our door to make new and amazing trade deals. Instead, we face decades of retrenchment and uncertainty, and a mass exodus of businesses – along with the prized medicines and banking agencies – from the UK has already begun. Brexit is creating new opportunities, but not for us.

Britain doesn’t have the capacity to make trade agreements, so the Government now plans to simply crib the existing ones from the EU and any new ones that come along. This demonstrates the falseness of the claim we could rapidly create our own, better trade arrangements. We can’t, and we won’t. Worse, any new agreements will be negotiated outside our control and without taking British interests into account. So much, I repeat, for taking back control.

The trade gaps which will open up as a result of leaving the EU cannot be made up elsewhere, and we face an impoverished future, grubbing to right-wing despots and carnival hucksters for whatever scraps they will throw us.

We have turned our face from the world at a time when British tact and diplomacy are most sorely needed. Our desperation for new trade deals – any deals – has paralysed us. In order to preserve our chance to wave the begging bowl, we have failed to take a lead in world events, failed to condemn Nazi sympathisers, failed to stand with the rest of the world over climate change. We have made ourselves at best an irrelevance on the world stage, at worst an appeaser.

Brexit is already causing damage. We are teetering on the edge of recession, with a falling pound, a real-terms fall in wages, and rising prices. Our Government has left no Brexit promise unbroken, no red line uncrossed. It has cost us billions already, and we have barely started to calculate the billions more it will cost as time goes on. We do not need to travel further down this road to see where it leads.

We know now that the promises made for Brexit cannot be fulfilled. Perhaps the Government has known for some time.

The Government is sitting on as many as fifty studies into the likely impacts of Brexit, which they will not publish. Why are they keeping them from us? Are they afraid of what those studies contain? Do they reveal that the Government has known all along how damaging Brexit would be? Maybe they contain bombshells such as the recent revelation that the Home Office has been overestimating the number of foreign students outstaying their visas by around 2,000%. We may never know.

What we do know is that the pedlars and promoters of Brexit have been rewarded for their incompetence and their untruths with senior posts in Government, while the billionaires and foreign powers who orchestrated a disinformation campaign to help deliver a dirty result go unchallenged.

We also know that the people of Britain didn’t vote for this. They didn’t vote for an act of deliberate self-harm that puts at risk the very fabric of our United Kingdom, undermines the Irish Peace Process and side-lines the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales. They didn’t vote for the strangulation of public services, or vote themselves out of a job.

Democracy doesn’t begin and end with a single vote, and we have a duty always to hold our Government to account for their promises and their choices. For our part, we promised to ensure that the Government’s Brexit plans deliver benefits for all the British people. We hold to that promise today.

It was our duty to support the attempt to find a new place for Britain outside the EU. It is our duty to end that support now.

Therefore, I announce here that the Labour Party will now work to maintain the UK’s full membership of the European Union.

We will not stand by and see factories and farms close, see millions lose their livelihoods, see families torn apart by the divisions that have been scored into our society, see an entire generation endure genuine and sustained hardship. We will not allow Britain to become an insignificant, impoverished, backward nation, an irrelevance.

For those who voted to Leave, I know that many of you have taken the same journey we have, to the realisation that the lofty promises made for Brexit Britain cannot be fulfilled, and that leaving would cause huge and perhaps irreparable harm. To a growing understanding that the problems we laid at the EU’s door have a cause closer to home.

But I know there are many of you who still want to leave the EU, and that this announcement is not what you want to hear. You have concerns about jobs, about EU rules and regulations, about immigration. I want to reassure you now that this is not an abandonment of you, or of your concerns.

Does the EU need reform? Yes. Do we need to tackle rising inequality, creaking public services, crime? Yes, yes and yes.

Whatever the problems the UK faces, the solution does not start with leaving the EU. It starts with a clear-eyed and honest dialogue about the issues we face, and the ways we can solve them together. We have time to do this if Parliament is not tied up for the next decade in creating a new relationship with the rest of the world that is in every way inferior to the existing one.

The Tory Party, propped up in Government – after a disastrous and distracting General Election – by the DUP and by taxpayer money, has flirted in recent times with the divisive, xenophobic rhetoric of the far right. We will not follow them down that road. We know too where that leads.

But we do need to talk about migration. We need to talk about how migration, to and from the UK, is the lifeblood of our society and our services, how we are at our very best when we draw from the very best the world has to offer, and give back in return.

And we need to talk about the EU, and what it represents for us. What it means to be part of something greater than us, greater with us.

So we reach across the political spectrum, to colleagues and friends in all parties, to call on everyone to work together to change the course on which we are currently set. To draw a new red line – under this unfortunate episode in British history – and to move on. To fulfil our duty as MPs to serve our constituents and our country as our consciences demand. As a proud part of the EU and the world, not apart.


“We Know What We’re Doing” image by Alexis Taylor

The UK left the EU at 23:00 GMT onFriday 31 January 2020
As of 23:00 GMT on 31 January 2020, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a third country with respect to the European Union.