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McDonnell: Labour will change the tone of Brexit negotiations

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell also condemned the Tory Government’s austerity policies in a speech in London.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell (Yui Mok/PA)
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell (Yui Mok/PA)

Labour would change the tone of the Brexit debate by arguing for a customs union, John McDonnell has claimed.

The shadow chancellor said the party had been involved in “information exchanges” with Brussels about its stance on the issue.

His comments came after a speech in which he warned Chancellor Philip Hammond could have a “Michael Fish moment” for failing to recognise the storm caused by austerity.

Labour are outlining our demand on this Government to wake up to the scale of suffering austerity is inflicting on our communities and the underlying damage being done to our economy John McDonnell

On Brexit, Labour has set out plans for a customs union, but only if the UK retained an influence on the terms of future EU trade deals.

Asked whether Brussels had indicated whether that was a workable option, Mr McDonnell said: “We have been involved in meetings with various commissioners, there have been information exchanges.

“We are not in the negotiations – the negotiations are done by government.

“But we have expressed our views and we have put to them our ideas.”

He also highlighted the links with Labour’s sister parties across the EU, claiming socialist and social democratic politicians in the bloc had given a “broad welcome to our proposals”.

There had also been appreciation for “the way in which we would change the tone of these negotiations”.

He said: “That’s the tone we want to have in these negotiations, that we base them upon our mutual benefit and mutual interest and mutual respect.

“In that way we feel we can get a deal which protects our economy and jobs.”

He said threats of a “no deal” Brexit and the possibility of walking away from the table have “tarnished the atmosphere of these negotiations” and held them back.

Prime Minister Theresa May has insisted that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, but has also said “we will not be buffeted by the demands to talk tough or threaten a walk out”.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the prospect of a “no deal” Brexit, leaving on World Trade Organisation terms, “doesn’t hold terrors for me”.

Mr McDonnell said: “We need to change the tone when we go into government, we believe that deal can be achieved in the interests of this country but also in the interests of Europe overall.”

In a speech in London ahead of the Chancellor’s spring statement next week, Mr McDonnell hit out at the “pain and misery” caused by the Government’s austerity policies.

He said: “Today Labour are outlining our demand on this Government to wake up to the scale of suffering that austerity is inflicting on our communities and the underlying damage being done to our economy.”

He added: “I think this Chancellor could be facing his own Michael Fish moment”, referring to “the weather forecaster who failed to predict the impending storm about to hit our shores and seemed oblivious to what was happening in the outside world”.

Weather forecaster Michael Fish (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Mr McDonnell said: “There is nothing inevitable about what’s happened.

“Austerity – as we have said consistently – was always a political choice, not an economic necessity.”

He said Labour would develop a “high-technology, high-wage, high-investment economy” that is “radically fairer, more democratic and environmentally sustainable” than the existing model.

Press Association

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