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Speaking at the EPLP fringe event looking at the "View from Europe" of Brexit, Labour's sister parties in the EU have warned the UK government against a Brexit deal that undermines workers' rights, citizens' rights and environmental standards - and attacked Tory ministers' rhetoric and attitude in the negotiations.

Brendan Howlin TD, Leader of the Irish Labour Party, said:

"We were reeling a year ago, and the mood hasn't changed. We live in a very unpredictable world now. We are the nation most affected by this decision. There are 375,000 Irish citizens in the UK, and 277,000 UK citizens in Ireland - and not all have Irish roots or connections. There were 110 million border crossings last year. There is £1.2 billion a week of trade. The UK is our largest trading partner. We've had 40 years of building up those relationships within the EU; our common European identity underpins the Irish peace process. The sundering of these relationships will undermine everything.

"There will be no hard border on the island of Ireland. People will not tolerate it - and the only way to avoid it is for both parts to be in the same Customs Union. The end product must be put to the people. Is the new settlement better than the status quo or not? A referendum on the deal would not be a denial of democracy, but an affirmation of it. There is no voice for Northern Ireland at this critical juncture. There is no Northern Ireland Executive or Assembly. No issue will have as big an impact on Ireland as Brexit. And on this issue, Sinn Fein should abandon their policy of absenteeism and vote in the House of Commons against Brexit.

"Regarding the UK's aggressive stance, you get the impression they think no one in the rest of the EU will hear what they say, but they do hear and they do listen. You can't get rid of a continent. It's not a good negotiating strategy to say "Go Whistle" as Boris Johnson did. It would be a mistake for the UK to think they can get away with it, and that other countries will need and want and deal and that they'll get a deal."

Marije Laffeber, Deputy Secretary General of the Party of European Socialists (PES), said:

"We have to continue the fight for workers' rights, citizens' rights, environmental standards and equality. However, Brexit is not the most important subject for all of us. Neighbouring countries are concerned, and we are all very concerned about the economy, social standards and migration. There has been a rise in extremism; the AfD have risen in Germany. The EU27 have to keep on defending what we have, our values and ideals. Brexit does matter to us, but these issues are important.

"Pushing for a jobs-first Brexit is an important thing to do. You need to make sure the government is not using Brexit to reverse social rights and protections. The UK and the Labour Party have always played a very important role in Europe, have been very active, and have always been on the international scene. We dearly hope our relationship as sister parties isn't going to change. There is a common understanding and we have to continue to build on that."

Iratxe García Pérez MEP, Leader of the Spanish Socialist MEPs, said:

"We have said that the negotiations must be between the UK and the EU, and not bilateral. Securing the rights of citizens must be crucial. We must protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK and Britons in the EU. There are 800,000 Britons in Spain and 300,000 Spanish citizens in the UK. The UK must not have a better settlement than EU membership.

"The future relationship must strike a balance between rights and responsibilities. The agreement must be fully compatible with the treaties and the ECHR to ensure the rights of citizens are protected. We have a strong position as social democrats in Europe - a red line is citizens' rights."

Theresa Griffin MEP, chair of the European Parliamentary Labour Party, added:

"The government's approach is one of chaos and incompetence. They still have no plan. Our EU partners see what they're saying - the government's approach is one of confrontation, rather than alliance building. There will be no backing from Labour MEPs for a deal that undermines the Northern Ireland peace process - 30,000 people cross the border each day - and there will be no backing for a deal that opens the door to attacks on workers' rights. We have to protect environmental regulations, workers' rights and citizens' rights."

Kier Starmer, Labour's shadow Brexit secretary, responded:

"The negotiations we're in are the most complicated we've been in since the second world war. It will change us for generations to come. Theresa May's Florence speech was about two things. She made it because the negotiations are not going well - David Davis promised it would all be settled very quickly. Yet we're still in phase one because of May's approach. It has also exposed the cabinet's petty squabling and May's unrealistic red lines.

"I am concerned by Theresa May and her approach. Talking to people in Brussels it is clear that the government's approach has delayed the negotiations. The rhetoric has delayed the negotiations. Their tone and approach have been really troubling. You don't insult your allies. The tone in Florence from the prime minister was better, but the government's approach so far has done a lot of damage.

"And The Boris Johnson vision, outlined in his 4,000-word essay, is of a low-tax, deregulated economy. We need a close, collaborative relationship - a deregulated economy would not be compatible. We need to keep our options on the table, but need to keep the benefits of the Single Market, in a different relationship. We need a new relationship that works for both of us. We need to be clear what it is that we actually want."

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Labour's European sister parties warn UK government against a Brexit deal that undermines rights and standards

Speaking at the EPLP fringe event looking at the "View from Europe" of Brexit, Labour's sister parties in the EU have warned the UK government against a Brexit deal that...

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Glenis Willmott MEP, Labour's Leader in the European Parliament, told the Labour Party Conference today:

“Conference, this is my final speech as Labour’s Leader in the European Parliament. Next week I will be retiring as an MEP. And while I must sadly, inevitably, talk about Brexit, perhaps you can indulge me for a minute in a little nostalgia.

“Look back with me to a simpler time. Before the Tories’ EU referendum divided our country. When Britain was known around the world for its values of tolerance and fairness at home and for its international leadership on the global stage.

“It was a time when if Britain’s negotiations went badly in Brussels, all we had to fear – if you believed the papers – was quieter hoovers and slightly straighter bananas.

“It is not that long ago, but it feels like a different world to today. And while you can still find bendy bananas on the shelves of our supermarkets, a lot of changes did come through our membership of the EU, that have made Britain a better place.

“Now, we might not have not solved all the problems facing our country. but I am proud of the work of Labour’s MEPs who have, working through the EU, helped in the fight to overcome them:

  • Better workers’ rights, such as equal pay for part-time workers and guaranteed paid holiday;
  • Investment in poorer parts of the country at a time when the Tory government was unashamed in its disregard for our industrial communities;
  • Environmental standards making the products we buy safer and helping to clean up our beaches and the toxic air in our cities;
  • Improved financial regulation, to tame the casino capitalism that led to the last global financial crisis.

“Conference, I never claimed the EU was perfect, but as we now prepare to leave, we need to remember the victories we have won. Because let us be in no doubt: many of the politicians who are leading our country through the EU exit door want to leave those rights and protections behind.

“It is one of the things they always hated about the EU – their desire for a free-market free-for-all has been tempered by European values of social justice and equality, by a belief in government stepping in to help the most vulnerable.

“And as our country enters its most important negotiations in my lifetime, there is a real danger that Britain will plummet out of the European Union with no deal in 18 months.

“And no deal is not better than a bad deal: our country will become poorer; jobs will be lost; whole sectors of the economy will grind to a halt.

“It is more than a year since the EU referendum. Six months since the triggering of Article 50. So it is a good moment to take stock of those Brexit promises.

“Remember? International trade deals ready to go; British trade with Europe to be guaranteed. Nobody, be they EU citizens in Britain or Brits abroad need worry about their status.

“Conference, the government is no nearer to moving forward on these issues than it was when Theresa May first entered Downing Street.

“Now, the government will claim the problems lie with the EU. Theresa May has called on EU leaders to be creative and to show more imagination.

“But our colleagues in Europe simply see a government stuck in a world of its own imagination: an expectation that we be released from the rules of European trade, but then just continue to trade like we used to; the idea of putting up a new customs border that both exists and doesn’t exist at the same time.

“Conference, it’s not creative, it’s science fiction. And I’ll tell you something else that’s science fiction: the outrageous claim that our NHS will get an extra £350 million a week because of Brexit. It isn’t true. It was never true. Shame on you Boris Johnson.

“Conference, I raise these examples because there is a danger that the prime minister leads the country into Brexit in the same failed way she led her party into the General Election.

“Back in May and June, Theresa May kept proclaiming herself to be a strong and stable leader, when all around her could plainly see she was anything but. She was the only person left believing her own propaganda. And once again her strategy is failing.

“She chose to start negotiations on a note of confrontation putting her party before the country. She tried to regain lost trust with her speech in Florence, yet all can see that her government policy is still just broad aspiration at best.

“From manufacturing to medicine, financial services to food processing, sector after sector of our economy is facing uncertainty. Investment decisions are delayed.

“So let’s be clear: the government’s fly-by-night negotiating strategy is a threat to jobs, it is a threat to tax revenues, and, in undermining the economy of our country, it is a threat to the future of our public services as well.

“Conference, I’m not going to stand up on this stage and tell you that I think Brexit is the answer to our country’s problems. I don’t. I put my heart and soul into campaigning in the referendum for Britain to stay in the European Union, to maintain our alliances, to protect our trade and the jobs that depend on it. It is what I think would have been best for the country. But, and it really does pain me to say this, we lost.

“And just like after any electoral defeat, we need to pick ourselves up, look at the challenges facing our country, and begin the next campaign.

“So now Labour MEPs are looking ahead to what will probably be their final vote: sometime in the next 18 months the European Parliament will have to decide whether to approve – or not – the final Brexit deal.

“And on behalf of my Labour colleagues, and on behalf of our sister party colleagues across Europe, I can tell you:

  • There will be no backing for a deal that undermines the peace process in Northern Ireland;
  • There will be no backing for a deal that fails to give peace of mind to EU citizens in Britain and Brits who have made their home abroad;
  • And there will be no backing for a deal that opens the door to attacks on workers’ rights and safety standards.

“So conference, as the Brexit talks continue, let’s stand united in holding the Tories’ feet to the fire. In challenging the heartlessness of the right-wing vision for Brexit Britain. And let’s stand united as Labour campaigns as the true voice of our country.”

Monday, September 25, 2017

Glenis Willmott MEP speech to Labour Party Conference 2017

Glenis Willmott MEP, Labour's Leader in the European Parliament, told the Labour Party Conference today:

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We are still no nearer to knowing the long-term EU-UK relationship, and it is still unclear how the negotiations will proceed, Labour MEPs warned following the prime minister’s key Brexit speech in Florence today.

Glenis Willmott MEP, Labour’s Leader in the European Parliament, said:

“The real test of this speech is whether it advances the negotiations. A transition deal is vital if we are to avoid chaos when we hit the Brexit deadline, but there needs to be real progress at next week’s talks on citizens’ rights, the Irish border and Britain’s financial liabilities before talks can even begin on any transition.

“Crucially this speech has failed to answer the most basic question: what does the British government actually want from Brexit? We still do not know what the government sees as the long-term UK-EU relationship at the end of any transition period.

“This speech may be an attempt to extend the road, but we are no clearer on the final destination, and the cliff-edge still looms.

“Fifteen months on from the referendum, and six months into talks, we still do not know what the government thinks Brexit means for Britain. While she should be negotiating with our EU partners, it looks like the prime minister is still negotiating with her Cabinet and once again putting her party interests before the interests of the country.”

Friday, September 22, 2017

Labour MEPs: PM’s Brexit speech still leaves the big questions unanswered

We are still no nearer to knowing the long-term EU-UK relationship, and it is still unclear how the negotiations will proceed, Labour MEPs warned following the prime minister’s key Brexit...

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