Response to Cameron’s EU negotiation statement

I am grateful to the Prime Minister for sending me a copy of the statement 45 minutes ago—an hour ago; I am sorry—and I am pleased that he has now decided to finally update the House. However, it is a bit unfortunate that despite his trumpeting of the sovereignty of national Parliaments in his EU negotiations, the Prime Minister did not think to come and update our own Parliament first. I hope he had a good day in Chippenham yesterday, but I note that he spent a lot of time answering questions from journalists when it would surely have been more respectful to this House to come here first and answer questions from Members.

But in truth—in reality—this negotiation is a Tory party drama that is being played out in front of us, as we see at the moment. The Labour party is committed to keeping Britain in the European Union because we believe it is the best—[Interruption] Don’t get too excited; let me tell you the rest of it: because we believe it is the best framework for European trade and co-operation in the 21st century, and in the best interests of people in this country. We believe that the Prime Minister has been negotiating the wrong goals in the wrong way for the wrong reasons.

For all the sound and fury, the Prime Minister has ended up exactly where he knew he would be: making the case to remain in Europe, which was what he always intended, despite a renegotiation spectacle choreographed for television cameras over the whole continent. As his own Back Benchers keep telling us, the proposals from the European Council are simply tinkering around the edges. They have little impact on what the EU delivers for workers in Britain or British businesses.

We welcome the proposals for a majority of national Parliaments to have a veto over Commission legislation, even if it is heavily qualified. It seems the Prime Minister has finally moved towards the Labour party’s view on this issue, and we welcome that.

Protecting non-eurozone states is necessary, but we cannot let the proposals hamper efforts to regulate the financial sector, including bankers’ bonuses. The crucial detail of the emergency brake on workers’ benefits for EU migrants is entirely absent. When is that information going to be made available? In any case, what the Prime Minister calls the strongest package ever on the abuse of free movement does not actually begin to tackle the real problems around the impact of migration on jobs, wages and communities. Those demand action to support public services in areas of high population growth, and regulation to prevent the subsidising of low pay and the grotesque exploitation of migrant workers by some unscrupulous employers. It is the same with competitiveness. Is the Prime Minister really out to strengthen genuinely competitive markets, or is this proposal really a fig leaf for increasing pressure to privatise our public services and the reduction of consumer standards, environmental protections or workers’ rights?

That is why Labour will continue to oppose the threats to services and rights from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations. We need reform to ensure all European Governments have the right to intervene to protect publicly owned industries and services. This side of the House is delighted that the Prime Minister has been forced to back down on his hopes to water down workers’ rights. However, we want to see workers’ rights further protected and extended within the European Union. We need a strengthening of workers’ rights in a really social Europe, and we want to see democratic reform to make the European Union’s decision making more accountable to its people. We must drive economic reform to put jobs and sustainable growth at the centre of European policy and work with partners in Europe to bring tax avoidance under control, so that we can get a far better deal than the Chancellor managed with Google last week.

However, to keep and extend these employment protections, we need to remain within the European Union, or leave the field for the Conservative party to make a bonfire of workers’ rights. The Prime Minister says that he has secured Britain’s exclusion from Schengen, a European army and a European superstate. The Prime Minister is living in never-never land. We have never argued for those things, and we do not intend to. We need to work with our allies in Europe to achieve the more progressive reforms that its people need—to build a more democratic Europe that delivers jobs, prosperity and security for all its people. We must do that together. That is why, when the referendum is finally held, we will be campaigning to remain a member.

I end by asking a question to the Prime Minister. Does he now agree that once this smoke-and-mirrors sideshow of a deal is done, we will get on with it and end the uncertainty, and the referendum will indeed be held on 23 June 2016?