European leaders are “bemused and confused” by Britain’s attitude towards the Brexit negotiations, according to Jeremy Corbyn, who met Michel Barnier and three continental prime ministers on his visit to Brussels.
The Labour leader held parallel discussions with the the EU’s chief negotiator and other European leaders, during which it is understood he was asked to explain how he intended to stop Britain from crashing out without a deal.
Coming out of an 80-minute meeting with Barnier, Corbyn told the Guardian he had talked the former French minister step-by-step through how he believed a Labour government could reboot the talks. “We are not going to walk away from Europe ... The point we were putting was that these negotiations need to get back on track.”
Corbyn’s meeting with Barnier overran by 20 minutes. “His message to us was that he recognised that we are fully involved in the process in the British parliament,” the Labour leader said. “It was the second time I had met Mr Barnier. We went through the issues, explained our position.”
It is understood Barnier was particularly eager to discuss Corbyn’s plan to prevent the UK from crashing out of the EU without any agreement on access to markets in a “no-deal scenario”.
Labour is seeking to build support in parliament to legislate to ensure MPs get a veto on Britain falling out of the EU without a withdrawal agreement in March 2019.
Barnier was constrained in his dealings with the Labour leader during their last meeting in July, but it is understood that he was open with Corbyn this time about the state of the negotiations, which he had recently described as being in deadlock.
The Labour leader was treated as a prime minister in waiting during his talks with Barnier and the prime ministers of Italy, Greece and Portugal, the UK’s oldest ally.
Corbyn said there was no question of him seeking to negotiate with the EU as a UK representative, but that it was clear those he had met welcomed his thoughts over how he would, as prime minister, force a step change in the talks. “I think there is a lot of bemusement ... Their message is that they want clarity,” he said. “They want to know what is going to happen on this, and our message to the British government is exactly that.”
Asked how he hoped a Labour government would change the dynamic of the talks and give the EU the clarity it was seeking, Corbyn said: “We would immediately legislate on EU nationals. We would propose legislation on workers’ rights, consumers’ rights and environmental rights.
“Make it very clear what our economic model is for the future, which is one of high investment, a manufacturing-based economy, and place that before the EU and say, look, we want to have a good trading relationship with you in the future.”
Corbyn also met the president of the European parliament, Antonio Tajani, who this week described the British offer of a €20bn financial settlement with the EU as peanuts.
On the amount the UK should pay, the Labour leader said: “We should pay what we are legally required to pay. We should honour our commitments and we should work on that basis and that principle.
“You cannot leave EU nationals living in Britain in the limbo land they are living in, and the letter they sent overnight really doesn’t cut it. It is like something out of a civil service comedy, like in The Thick of It. Let’s have something grown-up.”
Earlier in the day, just hours before the European council summit in Brussels, Corbyn took centre stage at a meeting of leftwing leaders and prime ministers in the Belgian capital to call on both May and EU leaders to stop posturing and take steps together to build a new relationship.
The Labour leader was scornful of recent comments by Philip Hammond in which the chancellor described the EU as the enemy, and offered an even-handed analysis of the impasse in the Brexit talks.
He 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.
“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 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.”
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