Keir Starmer – 2018 Speech at Labour Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary, at the Labour Party conference held in Liverpool on 25 September 2018.

Conference, it’s great to be back here in Liverpool.

A city of great energy and passion.

And we need both of those as we debate Brexit today and in the coming weeks.

But first let me start by saying thank you to my fantastic shadow Brexit team:

Jenny Chapman. Paul Blomfield. Matt Pennycook. Dianne Hayter. Emma Hardy and Jess Morden.

Thanks also to a special group of colleagues. Our Labour MEPs.

These past two years have been especially difficult for you. But you’ve served our Party and our country with distinction.

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Conference, the last two years have not been easy.

Like many of you, I was devastated by the referendum result.

Like many of you, I’d campaigned passionately to stay in the EU.

Not for the technical benefits – important though they are.

But because I’m an internationalist.

Because I believe that nations achieve more together than they do alone.

I believe that the greatest challenges facing our nation – armed conflict, terrorism, climate change or unchecked globalisation – can best be met together with our EU partners.

And the greatest opportunities – medical research, scientific advancement, art and culture – can only be realised together with our EU partners.

Those values did not die on 23 June 2016.

And those values must guide our every step as we move forward.

We cannot allow Brexit to be driven by narrow and divisive Tory ideology.

That’s why we have not ducked the challenge of Brexit.

We could have wished away the result.

But instead we stepped up. We stuck together and fought the government tooth and nail.

That was the right thing to do.

We were right to say that jobs and the economy should come first.

We were right to say that EU citizens aren’t bargaining chips.

We were right to argue for a transitional period to prevent a cliff-edge.

We were right to argue for a customs union with the EU and a strong single market deal.

And we were right to insist that Parliament should have a meaningful vote on the final deal.

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Over the coming weeks and months, we will be tested again.

Hugely important decisions will have to be made on Brexit.

Decisions that will affect each and every one of us.

The Prime Minister says that we should “trust her” to deliver Brexit but how can we trust a Prime Minister whose first choice for Foreign Secretary was Boris Johnson?

And whose second choice was the man who spent the last few years running down our NHS?

How can we trust the person responsible for the hostile environment. And for appointing a Northern Ireland Secretary who doesn’t even understand the basics about Northern Ireland, let alone the complexities.

Conference, this Prime Minister doesn’t deserve our trust.

Just when we need a strong government, what do we see?

Division. Chaos. And failure.

No credible plan for Brexit, no solution to prevent a hard border in Ireland and no majority in Parliament for the Chequers proposals.

A Tory civil war that has gone on for years, now threatens our prosperity.

The party that once promised that it would fix the roof while the sun was shining is now intent on burning the whole house down.

So I’ve got a message for the Prime Minister.

‘If your party wants to tear itself apart, that’s fine… but you’re not taking our country with you.’

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That’s why I set out six tests for the final Brexit deal.

Not just technical tests, but tests that spell out what kind of country we want to live in.

Where the well-being of all our communities matters.

Those tests were not plucked from thin air. They were based on the promises the Tories made about the Brexit deal they would deliver. They are tests Theresa May said she was “determined to meet”.

Well she may have lowered her expectations, but I haven’t lowered mine.

Conference, I know that you want clarity on where we stand on the deal now.

Because some have said Labour could vote for any deal the Tories reach.

Some have said we may abstain.

Some have said we may support a vague deal – a ‘blind Brexit’ – that gives no detail about the terms of our future relationship. So, let me be very clear – right here, right now:

If Theresa May brings back a deal that fails our tests – and that looks increasingly likely – Labour will vote against it.

No ifs, no buts.

And if the Prime Minister thinks we’ll wave through a vague deal asking us to jump blindfold into the unknown she can think again.

You can’t meet Labour’s tests by failing to provide answers.

We will vote down a blind Brexit.

This isn’t about frustrating the process.

It’s about stopping a destructive Tory Brexit. It’s about fighting for our values and about fighting for our country.

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And when it comes to the vote in Parliament we do not accept that the choice is between whatever deal Theresa May cobbles together or no deal.

That’s not a meaningful choice.

No deal would be a catastrophe and no government has the right to plunge this country into chaos because of its own failure.

So, if Parliament votes down the Prime Minister’s deal or she can’t reach a deal that’s not the end of the debate.

Labour must influence what happens next.

And we must keep all options on the table.

Our preference is clear:

We want a general election that can sweep away this failed Tory Government.

And usher in a radical Labour Government that would put jobs and living standards first.

But if a General Election is not possible then other options must be kept open. That includes campaigning for a public vote.

It is right for Parliament to have the first say but if we need to break the impasse, Labour campaigning for a public vote must be an option.

That’s why I’m happy to throw our full weight behind the motion being debated this morning.

In particular I want to thank the several hundred delegates who spent their Sunday evening in a compositing room.

It was a long meeting! But we reached consensus.

And conference, fast forward a week and contrast that to what you’ll see at Tory conference.

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Conference, there’s one final point I want to make.

Whatever happens in the coming weeks, whatever deal this Prime Minister delivers or does not deliver. The terms of the Brexit deal are only part of the much wider debate we need.

Because the referendum result was about something much deeper than the technical question of EU membership. It was a vote on the state of the nation.

About the way our economy and politics work – or don’t work.

And the message from millions of people was clear.

We need to transform our economy. We need to rebuild our public services. We need to bring power back to our communities and back to people’s lives.

There can be no adequate response to the referendum unless the right deal with the EU is matched by a new deal for Britain.

That’s the other side of Brexit.

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Conference, I’m under no illusion about the challenge ahead. These are uncertain times.

Brexit has divided this country.

We must remain united in the fight for our values.

The values that hold our party together.

Values that can bring our country back together.

That is our challenge.

We must rise to it.