Brexit: Labour backs ‘no hard Border’, says Corbyn

Party set to vote down any departure agreement that fails to meet key tests

British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn at the inauguration of a square named after Jo Cox, a British Labour MP who was killed in 2016, in Brussels, Belgium.  Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn at the inauguration of a square named after Jo Cox, a British Labour MP who was killed in 2016, in Brussels, Belgium. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

 

The British Labour Party remains wholeheartedly committed to ensuring that there “is no hard Border between the Republic of Ireland and the North of Ireland”, Jeremy Corbyn told EU negotiators in Brussels on Thursday.

“We made that clear. We both represent constituencies with substantial Irish communities in them and we’re very well aware of the problems,” the Labour leader told journalists.

He said Labour MPs would vote down any Brexit deal that did not meet the party’s six tests for a UK-EU deal on Brexit. The tests include a requirement that the deal give the UK the “exact same benefits” as it has as a member of the single market and customs union.

Mr Corbyn and shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer met the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier after a meeting with the EU’s top civil servant, commission secretary general Martin Selmayr.  

Mr Selmayr, who is very much the eyes and ears of commission president Jean Claude Juncker, is also responsible for the commission’s no-deal contingency planning. But his meeting with Mr Corbyn was being viewed by the British media with suspicion. Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage accused Mr Corbyn of undermining the government’s negotiating strategy.

Mr Corbyn insisted to journalists that Mr Barnier did not give a view of Labour’s position. “It was not a negotiation. It was us informing him what our views are, and he telling us what the state of play was on negotiations,” he said. He had met Mr Barnier on a number of occasions before and had agreed that he would visit him when in Brussels.

The six tests involved, he said, “protecting jobs and trade arrangements with the EU in future, and of course issues surrounding the Border in Ireland, and the rights of European Union nationals who live in the UK and are very welcome in the UK. We are utterly determined to protect their rights and family reunion”.

Mr Barnier has said that Mr Corbyn’s backstop plans – UK membership of the customs union and of elements of the single market – would help but not resolve the current difficulties in negotiations. The discussion between the two does not appear to have elaborated on the issue.

In Liverpool at the Labour conference on Wednesday, Mr Corbyn, addressing his comments to prime minister Theresa May, said: “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.”

Earlier on Thursday Mr Corbyn attended a ceremony for the naming of a Brussels square after murdered Labour MP Jo Cox . He thanked the people of Brussels “for this wonderful gesture, which will allow Jo’s legacy to live on in a city that she loved.  

“In Jo’s memory, we must recommit to the values of peace and justice that Jo fought for every day. We must stand up for the values of internationalism, the values of reaching out to support those in need all across the world.”