Jeremy Corbyn will use his speech to Labour’s conference in Brighton to urge Theresa May’s cabinet to “pull yourself together or make way” and let his team negotiate Britain’s exit from the European Union.
Corbyn will close Labour’s annual gathering on Wednesday with an upbeat speech, insisting his party is a government in waiting, and accuse a divided Conservative leadership of putting their selfish interests before those of the country.
After cabinet infighting over Brexit burst into the open in the past fortnight, Corbyn will say: “The Tories are more interested in posturing for personal advantage than in getting the best deal for Britain. Never has the national interest been so ill-served on such a vital issue. If there were no other reason for the Tories to go, their self-interested Brexit bungling would be reason enough.
“So, I have a simple message to the cabinet: for Britain’s sake, pull yourself together or make way.”
Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, reopened the row about Brexit on the government frontbench last week with a 4,000-word article setting out his personal vision for Britain’s future outside the European Union.
Newspaper reports at the weekend underlined the sense of disarray by suggesting that Brexit secretary David Davis had been jockeying for position in the wake of the general election result, while the chancellor, Philip Hammond, had been prepared to throw his weight behind Johnson.
As the Conservatives prepare for a fraught conference in Manchester next week, Labour’s better-than-expected performance at the general election silenced most of Corbyn’s critics at his own party’s convention.
In his speech on Wednesday, he will say: “Yes, we didn’t do quite well enough and we remain in opposition for now. But we have become a government-in-waiting. And our message to the country could not be clearer: Labour is ready.”
Corbyn will insist the policies in Labour’s manifesto, some of which have been fleshed out at the conference, are the “new common sense” in British politics. He will also condemn the Grenfell Tower disaster as evidence of a “degraded regime”.
“The disregard for rampant inequality, the hollowing out of our public services, the disdain for the powerless and the poor have made our society more brutal and less caring,” he will say.
“Now that degraded regime has a tragic monument – the chilling wreckage of Grenfell Tower, a horrifying fire in which dozens perished, an entirely avoidable human disaster.”
The positive mood in Brighton was dampened occasionally by rows over antisemitism and a growing business backlash against John McDonnell’s economic policies.
The shadow chancellor was ridiculed on Tuesday for appearing to suggest he was prepared for a run on the pound if Labour took power.
McDonnell told a fringe meeting on Monday night that he had looked at plans for how to respond in case investors dumped sterling in the event of a Labour government.
Hammond said McDonnell had “privately conceded the disastrous effects that Labour’s plans would have on Britain’s economy. Labour’s plans would go too far and ordinary working people will end up footing the bill”.
The CBI warned on Monday that Labour’s economic policies could send businesses “running for the hills”, after the shadow chancellor received a standing ovation for saying a Labour government would seek to put PFI projects, and the staff they employ, under government control.
Corbyn backed McDonnell in an interview with the BBC, saying that his colleague was “making the point that you’ve got to look at all these things”.
“John is right to look at all these scenarios, because if we’re going to move into government we need to know what we’re going to do … but also look at all the scenarios we might face,” he said.
The pound dropped sharply in 2016 after the result of the Brexit referendum. McDonnell and his team have been meeting City investors in a bid to calm nerves about Labour’s radical policies and to reassure them that the party is ready to take power.
Richard Barbrook, the academic carrying out the scenario-planning, said he would use “professional gaming” in a similar way to the military or the civil service to look at problems the party could face in government.
Barbrook said no one had expected the snap election. “Now the government is tottering – will it survive Brexit? So, it has to taken seriously [that] there could be election [and] we would almost certainly win,” Barbrook told Sky News, adding that the party had to be “prudent”.
In his speech, Corbyn will also say that a Labour government would seize on rapid improvements in technology to remodel Britain’s economy.
“We need urgently to face the challenge of automation, robotics that could make so much of contemporary work redundant. That is a threat in the hands of the greedy, but what an opportunity if it’s managed in the interests of society as a whole,” he will say.
“If planned and managed properly, accelerated technological change can be the gateway for a new settlement between work and leisure, a springboard for expanded creativity and culture, making technology our servant and not our master, at long last.”
Corbyn will say that this is the thinking behind Labour’s manifesto policy of extending free education to cover retraining throughout workers’ lives to equip them for the new world of work.
Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, used her speech on Tuesday to set out plans for a National Education Service, which would radically expand the availability of free training, creating “a guarantee of lifelong learning”.
Corbyn will also promise that a Labour government would unleash a new wave of devolution. “Our rights as citizens are as important as our rights as consumers. Power will be devolved to the community, not monopolised in Westminster and Whitehall. Let’s take it a stage further: make public services accountable to communities, business accountable to the public and politicians accountable to those we serve,” he will say. “Let the next Labour government transform Britain.”
Open dissent on the conference floor in Brighton has largely been avoided. Deputy leader Tom Watson, giving his own speech on Tuesday afternoon, led jubilant delegates in a football-style chant of “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn”.
But Brexit has been a controversial issue in Brighton, with pro-EU MPs using a series of fringe meetings to call for their party to keep Britain in the single market, or even to seek to reverse Brexit altogether.
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