In my first interview with Richard Corbett MEP before the referendum, the then deputy leader of the European parliamentary Labour party, stated the European parliament was no gentleman’s club, nor a burden on British taxpayer. Now we are heading for the door Corbett warns that each family may be £3000 worse of per month, and our workers’ rights are under threat.
Mr Corbett is now Leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party, a role that sees him representing the collective views of Labour MEPS, and also allows him a seat in the Shadow Cabinet and on the Labour party’s NEC.
I asked him this week, on the potential impact of a No deal Brexit, and whether it was better than a bad deal. He warned that “If we leave without a deal there will be legal limbo for all kinds of things, ranging from aircraft landing rights to the rights of EU citizens living in Britain and Brits living in the EU. It would mean World Trade Organisation tariffs on goods traded and a loss of access to EU markets for services. Concluding “A no deal Brexit must be avoided”.
Corbett sees Brexit as a threat to hard won workers’ rights. He agrees with former Tory Chancellor Kenneth Clarke that some Conservative ministers are not overly keen on worker’s rights and believes the right wing leavers in the Conservative party are very keen to diminish worker’s rights in the UK and see Brexit as a method to achieve this.
There has been much talk of hard Brexit (and soft Brexit), and Mr Corbett gave clear definitions for both terms. Describing Hard Brexit as leaving not just the EU but also the European single market and the customs union.
A soft Brexit would probably entail leaving the EU, but staying in the single market and the customs union. Corbett stated the single market is core to protecting workers right saying “the Eurpopean single market has rules to protect consumers, workers and the environment. They could be better, but their very existence is why the neo-liberal right dislike the EU”.
Corbett said the debate before the referendum lacked honesty. Going on to say the leave campaigners themselves say they would not have won without the £350 million a week for the NHS on the infamous bus, amongst other lies.
He says already the loss to the economy, due to the fall in the economic growth rate since the referendum, will amount to £65 billion by 2021. The UK government will also have to fund new bodies such as agencies to regulate medicines and chemicals, and fund customs checks, should we leave the customs union.
The prime minister and the foreign secretary seem to have differing opinions on when freedom of movement (FOM) will end. However Mr Corbett insists that those who think that immigration levels are too high are wrong to attribute this to freedom of movement. “Most migrants to Britain come from outside the EU, entirely under our national rules, not EU rules.” He says, “As to EU freedom of movement, it is two-way, with nearly 1.2 million Brits in other EU countries. It is also not an unconditional right: you have to move for work or be self-sufficient. Britain has never fully enforced these conditions. In any case, EU migrants in Britain pay their way: they pay over one-third more in taxes than they receive in benefits and services, so they help pay for the NHS, schools etc.”.
On enshrining a Brexit date in law, as was recently suggested he said ” Why bind your hands in advance when you don’t know what the state of play will be at the end of the negotiations? Why make it illegal to have any flexibility on the date?”