The article by Keir Starmer, the Leader of the Opposition, in the Sunday Telegraph on 13 September 2020.
Let’s Get Brexit Done. That was the promise the Prime Minister made to the British people on the steps of Downing Street hours after last year’s General Election.
I accept that the leave-remain divide is over. The country needs – and wants – to move on. That is why it is in the best interests of the British people to negotiate a trade deal with Europe.
It is what the public want, it is what they were promised and it is what they expect to be delivered. I believe a deal is possible too. The outstanding issues are difficult, but they are not insurmountable. An agreement can be struck if both sides hunker down in good faith and break the logjam.
And yet, it is this Prime Minister and this Conservative Government who have turned the clock back and are reigniting old rows.
I am not blind to the fact this could be part of the Government’s negotiating strategy in the final weeks of talks. We were repeatedly told last year that the talks were on the brink of collapse, only for a breakthrough or concession from the Government to come a few days later. That is part and parcel of what we have come to expect from Brexit.
However, the decision to propose a Bill last week that would break an international agreement we signed a matter of months ago is wrong. Many former leaders of the Conservative Party have spoken out to say so. And I suspect the Prime Minister agrees with them and knows his actions are counterproductive.
First, public trust has been broken. The deal the Prime Minister promised would be done is now being reopened. The divisions within the Conservative Party are being reignited. And at a time when we are all doing everything we can do to follow social distancing rules, ministers are on the television and radio justifying why it is ok for them to break international law. It is as ludicrous as it is frustrating.
We have broken the trust of our global partners too. I believe we can be a proud nation on the world stage and a moral force for good. We can work with our international partners to strike the best possible trade deals. But, the Prime Minister risks holding Global Britain back. How can we get the best trade deals when we cannot be trusted to keep our word?
The Labour Party I lead will always speak out in the national interest. I want the talks with Europe to succeed. I have long argued that it is possible to get a deal that can allow businesses to thrive, good jobs to be created and peace in Northern Ireland to be preserved. I want to see our own union of nations –England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – protected too.
People want to move on from this torturous debate; they want to see a deal done so we can focus as a united nation on how we protect ourselves from the next wave of the pandemic.
We have all been alarmed by the sharp increase in coronavirus cases in recent days. We have all heard heart-breaking stories from friends or family members who have struggled to get a test. The anxiety we all felt at the start of this pandemic is returning. People are scared about what the next few months might bring, how the virus can be contained, how our economy can be protected and jobs can be saved. Our focus, the Government’s focus, must be on this.
I want ministers to be fixing the test, track and isolate system. I want to see a plan for how we can protect our care homes from a second wave, support families who are worried about their jobs and make sure children can still get the education they need. Those are my priorities. The priorities of the British people. We should be getting on with defeating this virus, not banging on about Europe.
Get on with Brexit and defeat the virus. That should be the Government’s mantra.
Labour is prepared to play its part in making that happen. If the Government fixes the substantial cross-party concerns that have been raised about the Internal Market Bill, then we are prepared to back it. But if they do not, and the talk collapse, then it is their failure and incompetence that will have let the British people down.