Leader of the Labour party and official UK opposition outlines his views on Prime Minister Theresa May's beleaguered Brexit deal and why it won't get through parliament.
It’s been two and a half years since Britain narrowly voted to leave the European union.
But the country is divided on what it should do next, or indeed whether it should leave at all.
Britain, its parliament and its people are split. There’s even talk that if this continues it may face a constitutional crisis like it has not seen for decades.
But one man who apparently says he has a solution is the leader of the Labour party and the opposition in the UK, Jeremy Corbyn.
With the clock ticking before Tuesday's crucial Brexit vote, he spoke with Euronews' Political Editor Darren McAffrey.
Mr. Corbyn, you said two and a half years ago during that referendum that you’d give the European Union 7, 7.5 out of ten. At the end of 2018, what would you give it out of 10 now?
That’s a good question. I gave it 7.5 out of ten because my criticisms were of the development of free-market economics by the EU, the role of the European central bank had played in the austerity crisis, albeit Britain is not in the euro, and also the competitions policy which I think has brought unnecessary competition to some public services.
So that was my criticism. Although the social Europe idea - the idea of equality across the continent, the idea of the charter of fundamental rights, the idea of a much wider living wage - I support all of that. I support the workers’ rights, working time directive type of agenda. And we’re now in a position where Britain is negotiating with the EU. And on Tuesday Parliament will be asked to vote on the Prime Minister’s negotiations.
Looking forward, could you support something like an EU Army?
I don’t think that would be a particularly good idea because I want to see us being an influence of peace around the world and I would want to work – if I was in government – with all countries across Europe both in and out of the EU to promote peace and understanding and dialogue. But also to deal with the human rights abuses that exist on the fringes of Europe. And also to have a much better approach to the refugee crisis.
There is a horrendous refugee crisis in Libya, terrible treatment of refugees in camps in Libya and the exploitation of them. And very large numbers of people, hundreds dying almost every month in the Mediterranean trying to get away from the crisis they’re in. We have a responsibility - a moral responsibility - to do something about it.
So it sounds like you might give them a 6 out of 10 now.
I’d give it about the same… I have criticism, yes. But also recognize that there are many people in the Commission who have worked very hard, for a very long time to try to improve social justice, to invest in the most left-behind parts of Europe and also have worked very hard to try to find non-military solutions to conflicts. Think of the Iraq war. Europe was not at the forefront of wanting the Iraq war. In fact, with the exception of Britain, most European countries were against it.
And on Brexit itself we heard from a whole range of European leaders that Theresa May’s deal was not only the best deal from their point of view, but the only deal. Have you been told something else in private that you think you can negotiate your own deal?
I’m not saying what I’ve been told privately, because I’m not doing the negotiations. What I made very clear both publicly and in all the meetings that I’ve had is that this deal is not acceptable because it does not…
It is to Europe though.
Well it’s the negotiation that Europe has concluded with the British Prime Minister. The British Prime Minister brings it back to the British Parliament and every indication is that it’s going to be defeated significantly on Tuesday in the British Parliament.
It’s going to be defeated because it’s not an acceptable deal. Where you have a referendum in which the Prime Minister herself says people voted to take back control, you then have a process that you go potentially into a backstop which you cannot leave without the permission of the other side. There’s no way of leaving it. And uh, that’s not taking back control.
So if the deal gets voted down, you’ve suggested what the country needs is a general election and for you to renegotiate a better deal.
That means extending Article 50, because there’s no time. So how long would you need for those negotiations?
Well you’d obviously start negotiations straight away and set out the parameters. But the difference is…
But that’s not going to happen before the end of March.
Well I was just explaining; the parameters are quite important. Think back to the time Article 50 was invoked in March 2017. The government then set about making all kinds of statements about the trade deals it would do around the world. Liam Fox said he was going to do 40 trade deals and it will all be over in five minutes. And Boris Johnson and others talked grandly about special trade deals with USA. All of which involved undercutting existing conditions, undercutting standards in food and farming and everything else. And so the whole time the European Union would have been looking at Britain saying: “Hang on they’re not really negotiating with us, they’re negotiating with themselves about something else.” We would not be doing that.
It will potentially take you 18 months to two years to negotiate a deal. That means that we will still be in Article 50 for potentially years to come.
It’s better to make sure you get a deal that works; that we do have that trade access, we do protect those jobs, and we do ensure those European Union citizens that have made their homes in Britain are able to remain, and their families to remain with them, and that they be recognized for the fantastic contribution they’ve made to our society.
But it’s also understanding why people voted the way they did in the referendum. Because think about it. People voted ‘leave’ in areas often that have been very left behind - lack of investment, low skilled jobs, severe levels of flexible employment, which in reality often means very low wages and insecure jobs. And they felt that no one was very interested in their communities. Those are not that different from problems all across Europe.
In your deal, can you guarantee that there will not be the free movement of people?
There would have to be movement of people across Europe.
The free movement of people as it currently is.
Well that’s going to change for sure. But I’ll make this point. Britain relies on a lot of migrant labour working in the health service, education, transport, agriculture sectors. And industry. Think of all the big manufacturers. They rely on the ability to take very high-skilled workers very quickly from one place to the other. Look at big companies: Airbus, Rolls Royce, BMW, Ford, all these…
Can you also guarantee that there would be no backstop in your deal?
There certainly wouldn’t be a backstop from which you can’t escape. And that’s one of the obvious debates…
But then by its very definition, it’s no longer a backstop.
Precisely. We will have to come to an agreement on a customs union, a specific customs union with the European Union that does give us the opportunity to have a say in it at all, but also guarantees that level of trade.
Also, we’ve heard this week that Theresa May’s deal, under all the models, means that Britain is going to be a poorer place than it would if it were to remain inside the European Union. Can you make a commitment here and now that the deal you strike will not make Britain a poorer place?
I would not want to make Britain a poorer place, of course not.
But will your deal make Britain a poorer place?
Well obviously I wouldn’t be interested in a deal that made the country poorer. Who would?
But will it then be better off than remaining inside?
Well look, we go down a process. We have a vote on Tuesday. I hope the government’s proposals are defeated then. What happens then is we have a problem: we have a government in office but not in power. Because it doesn’t have a majority in the House of Commons.
Either something else is negotiated very rapidly with the European Union over a matter of a few days and it comes back to Parliament or the government says: “Well, actually we can’t govern.” At which point there has to be a different government or a general election.
But fundamentally the problem is that it’s going to be very difficult for you to strike a deal that means that Britain is wealthier than it currently is inside the EU.
I have made the point about trade. I have made the point about not allowing our conditions to fall below that of the European Union. In fact, I’d like them to be above it. There are many areas on workers’ rights I would like to see better than the average for the EU.
On this issue of the Second referendum, which you say is now on the table as an option, how would you campaign now? If the choice is – and this is the choice that everyone seems to be suggesting – is that it is no Brexit, May’s deal or remain inside?
Well it won’t be a referendum on May’s deal because May’s deal isn’t going to get through the Parliament.
But who’s going to offer the second referendum? It has to be the government doesn’t it? And they’re currently in government.
To have a referendum, there has to be a special legislation anyway, a special law anyway to pass. There’s no referendum act in Britain that says the government can call a referendum. It can only be done by special legislation which would take several months to get through anyway.
Would you campaign to remain inside the EU?
It depends what the agreement is at that time, what deal we reach with the European Union. If we were negotiating it, those are the parameters I would set down to negotiation. I want this close working relationship with the European Union, I want to make sure we have a customs union with the European Union. And I want to make sure we have a say in what goes on.
Finally, do you think Brexit was a mistake?
I campaigned to remain and reform. I think the European Union has achieved a lot of good things. But I do think there are a lot of problems with the approach on austerity, the approach on the economics and the free market side of things. And that’s why I say the European Union needs to reform and strengthen the social side of Europe. Because there are massive differences in living standards between Eastern and Western Europe. There are massive differences between rights and conditions across Europe. So I support obviously things like the charter of fundamental rights, which I believe is a very important document. So I would want to see a stronger, social Europe, and a more just Europe.