Jeremy Corbyn to Theresa May: Step aside and let me handle Brexit
Jeremy Corbyn has urged Theresa May to “step aside” over her handling of the Brexit negotiations, as the Labour Leader and Prime Minister locked horns over future customs ties with the EU.
In a heated Prime Minister’s Questions that focused squarely on Brexit, Mr Corbyn said divisions in Mrs May’s Cabinet over future trade arrangements with Brussels meant there had been “no progress in negotiations for five months”.
And he said businesses were already considering shifting their operations overseas because of the “uncertainty and recklessness” of the Government’s approach.
The Labour leader said: “We've had 23 months since the referendum. We have just ten months to complete negotiations. And the government is in complete disarray.
“On both sides of the negotiations the reality is dawning that deadlines are at risk of not being met. More and more jobs are at risk as more and more businesses openly consider the options of relocating their jobs elsewhere.”
But the Prime Minister blasted back, pointing to contradictory positions from Labour’s own frontbench over Brexit in recent weeks.
“If he's talking about friction perhaps he could reflect on the fact that this month the shadow health minister in the Lords voted for a second referendum, that at the weekend the shadow Brexit secretary refused to rule out a second referendum and on Monday the shadow international development minister tweeted in favour of a second referendum,” Mrs May said.
Fresh confusion over Labour’s position emerged this morning, when two frontbenchers said a Norway-style soft-Brexit trading partnership with the EU was not "off the table" - less than 48 hours after Mr Corbyn's spokesman insisted the party would not back membership of the European Economic Area.
The latest Commons clashes also saw the leaders trade blows over Mrs May’s just-announced Brexit White Paper, which the Government has promised will spell out in detail what its plans for a customs arrangement with Brussels are.
The publication will follow months of Cabinet wrangling over two key options - a ‘customs partnership’ and ‘maximum facilitation’ - that have prompted deep splits between Downing Street and pro-Brexit ministers.
The Labour leader said the Government was “no nearer to agreeing a white paper than they are on the strategy for going forward”.
But Prime Minister took a swipe at Mr Corbyn, pointing out that he had called for the process of EU withdrawal to be triggered “immediately after the referendum, with no work having been done in preparation for the negotiations”.
She added: “He wouldn't even have had a white page, let alone a White Paper to base his negotiations on. And what would that have led to? What Labour do every time in government - they'd have sold Britain out.”
Mr Corbyn said the Government was “ so busy negotiating with itself it cannot negotiate with anybody else”, and he urged Mrs May to step down and “make way” for a Labour government.
“Mr Speaker, if the Prime Minister cannot negotiate a good deal for Britain why doesn't she step aside and let Labour negotiate a comprehensive new customs union and living standards backed by trade unions and business in this country?”
Labour will this evening make a fresh bid to exploit Conservative splits on Brexit. The party will use arcane Parliamentary rules to stage a Commons vote which, if passed, would force the Government to publish all papers presented to ministers on the two customs arrangements being thrashed out by the Cabinet.