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 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.”