Jeremy Corbyn has called on both Theresa May and EU leaders to stop posturing and take steps together to build a new relationship, in a speech in Brussels.
The Labour leader, while scornful of recent comments by Philip Hammond in which the chancellor described the EU as “the enemy”, offered a surprisingly even-handed analysis of the impasse in the Brexit talks.
Speaking at a conference on the future of socialism, Corbyn said both sides needed to take steps to make progress in the negotiations, which are stuck on the details of the estimated €60bn (£54bn) divorce bill.
“The issue of Brexit is obviously a huge one in Britain,” he said. “Let me be clear, the British Labour party does not see anyone in Europe as an enemy. We see people across Europe as friends. You are our colleagues, our partners, our comrades and our friends.”
Corbyn added: “Our commitment is clear. We must and will respect the result of the EU referendum but at the same time build a new close and cooperative relationship with our fellow Europeans based on our common interests. We are internationalists.
“So I urge all leaders on all sides – the UK and the EU. The UK and the European Union must take steps together. There is no need for insults or divisive posturing. It is our responsibility to build a relationship that will continue to thrive for generations to come, and we in the Labour party are determined to achieve that.”
During the event, organised by Gianni Pittella, the Italian leader of the socialist group in the European parliament, Corbyn also urged the EU to take steps to reform its ways – an indication of the Labour leader’s sometimes ambivalent attitude towards the bloc.
“In the referendum the Labour party campaigned for remain and reform,” he said. “That call for reform of EU institutions and rules in the interests of the many is echoed by many friends and allies across Europe. We will resist any attempt by British Conservatives to use Brexit to try to create any kind of deregulated tax haven off the shores of Europe. [We want] A deal that works for all of us – for Britain and the whole of Europe.
“We will continue to work with you and others across the European Union – and of course Europe is bigger than just the European Union – on climate change, challenging the grip of corporate power and many other issues inside or outside the EU.”
Shortly afterwards, Theresa May called for “urgency” in reaching an agreement on citizens’ rights as she arrived at an EU summit in Brussels. The prime minister said the UK wanted to play a full role in dealing with the shared challenges of counter-terrorism, defence and migration.
Asked about Brexit, citizens’ rights was the only issue May referred to directly, with no specific mention of the other divorce issues – the dispute over money or the status of Northern Ireland. She referred back to her speech in Florence, which addressed these issues.
“I set out a few weeks ago in Florence a very bold and ambitious agenda and vision for our future partnership between the EU and the UK at the heart of that remains co-operation on the key issues and dealing with the shared challenges that we face,” she said.
The summit is not officially about Brexit at all. The formal agenda is dedicated to a host of foreign policy issues: migration, Turkey, the Iran nuclear deal, North Korea. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has added EU trade policy to the agenda, in an attempt to protect French farmers from any future trade deal with South American countries.
The British prime minister asked to take the floor to make a point on Brexit, which she is expected to do at the end of dinner. Diplomats said they did not expect EU leaders to give detailed responses to May’s intervention.
“I am not surprised [that she wants to speak] because she has no other platform to speak her mind to other EU leaders,” said a senior EU diplomat. “I doubt anybody would want to say anything substantial as a kind of comment or reaction to what she will say.”
Another said they were not expecting anything spectacular from the prime minister. “We are not expecting a coup de théâtre.”
Earlier in the day, responding to suggestions from a former Tory cabinet minister, Owen Patterson, that failure to reach a deal with the EU was inevitable, Corbyn said such a scenario would be “disastrous”.
“The prime minister seems to have managed to upset just about everybody and have a warring cabinet around her,” Corbyn said. “It is up to her to get the negotiations back on track. We cannot countenance the idea that we just rush headlong into no deal with Europe. No deal with Europe would be very dangerous for employment and jobs in Britain”.
Corbyn is meeting the prime ministers of Italy, Portugal and Sweden, along with the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, during his one-day visit to Brussels. Before those meetings, he told the Together conference that the neoliberal system of the past was broken and that the left needed to offer a radical alternative vision.
He said: “The neoliberal economic model … doesn’t work for most people. Inequality and low taxes for the richest are hurting our people and the economy, as even the IMF acknowledges. Our thinking must become the new consensus.”
This article was written by Daniel Boffey in Brussels, for theguardian.com on Thursday 19th October 2017 14.10 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010