Labour hopes its “team approach”, set out in an exclusive interview with The Independent, contrasts favourably with Theresa May’s claim that she will personally head Brexit talks as her own ratings slip.
Sir Keir revealed as well that his party would refuse a key Brussels demand for the European Court of Justice to be final guarantor for EU citizens rights after Brexit, but could accept the body having an ongoing role for trade disputes.
The Conservatives have sought to make Brexit the election’s main battleground, presenting Ms May as the “strong and stable” champion who will personally secure a new deal with Europe.
But Labour strategists suspect the approach has met its limits, with voters showing as much concern for living standards and the NHS, and questions arising over Ms May’s credibility following the dementia tax fiasco that precipitated the party’s collapsing poll lead.
Should I vote Labour? Corbyn's biggest policies explained
Should I vote Labour? Corbyn's biggest policies explained
Labour is committed to leaving the European Union but would have different negotiating priorities to the Conservatives. It has said it would have a “strong emphasis” on staying in the single market and the customs union. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and leading figures in Brussels have been unambiguous that membership of the single market is impossible without free movement.
The party would drop “bogus immigration targets” but move to a managed system of migration favoured by many leave voters. It has said this “may include employer sponsorship, work permits, visa regulations or a tailored mix of all these”.
3/9 The Economy
Labour’s manifesto commits to balance government spending with the amount raised by taxation, which can mean little more than significant tax increases. The greatest burden will fall on higher earners but they cannot meet demand on their own. It has also promised to bring rail companies back in to public ownership and cap fares. The party would also renationalise Royal Mail. It also promises a “transition” to publicly owned energy.
No one earning under £80,000 would pay any more in national insurance or income tax. It would raise corporation tax, from the current low of 19p to 26p. This higher rate would still be a competitive internationally, but the government is currently fighting hard to attract business in the wake of Brexit and they say a low corporation tax rate is crucial. Labour would also lower the top, 45p income tax threshold to £80,000. In theory, this could raise £7bn, but only if higher earnings did not decide to move abroad.
Labour has promised more money for GP services, free hospital parking for patients, staff and visitors, and to take a million people off NHS waiting lists by guaranteeing treatment within eighteen weeks. These promises will be expensive to keep, and there is no certainty that the party’ s commitment to raising taxes on higher earners, increasing capital gains tax and reversing cuts to corporation tax will be enough to meet the need.
The party has pledged to abolish university tuition fees and reintroduce maintenance grants and give free school meals to all schoolchildren.
Labour’s manifesto commits to building 1m new homes, and would introduce controls on rent rises for private renters. It would also scrap the so-called bedroom tax.
Labour would ban fracking, but, crucially, also supports new nuclear projects. It would also introduce a new Clean Air Act to deal with illegal air quality
Its manifesto says it is committed to the NATO target of 2 per cent spending on defence. It is also committed to the renewal of Trident, even though Jeremy Corbyn has spent a lifetime campaigning against it.
Asked about who would conduct frontline talks, Sir Keir said: “What Jeremy has done is to indicate that he would want to keep his Brexit team, which is myself, Emily Thornberry and Barry Gardiner, to do that work, with Angela Smith our Leader in the Lords – that has been the essential quartet.
“Part of the reason for that, is that I have been, as have Barry, Angela and Emily, backwards and forwards to Brussels having discussions with our EU partners about negotiations.”
He added: “Labour’s approach is a team approach where we pull on all of the talent and resources that we’ve got in the Brexit team. Theresa May is isolated on this. In the end it’s our tone and approach that is going to make the difference.”
Earlier this week both Mr Corbyn and Ms May gave almost simultaneous speeches on Brexit, with the Prime Minister saying only she can deliver the right deal with Brussels, while directly targeting her rival as unpatriotic and “not up to the job”.
Mr Corbyn, meanwhile, put his Brexit team led by Sir Keir centre stage and directed his fire at Brexit Secretary Mr Davis, Foreign Secretary Mr Johnson and Trade Secretary Dr Fox.
Labour thinks that with Ms May’s personal ratings slipping in the wake of the social care U-turn, not to mention the evaporation of her campaign’s “strong and stable” mantra, the Conservative decision to focus Brexit strategy on the Prime Minister’s personal qualities is wobbling.
Sir Keir said: “You can’t maintain you are strong and stable and U-turn on your manifesto in the way they have. That has resonance for the Brexit negotiations.
“You can’t say ‘elect me to carry out the negotiations because I’m strong and stable’, when you can’t even hold your own campaign together for the weeks of the general election.”
Claiming Ms May had needed to “constantly reset” her campaign, he went on: “Now she has had to do so again, to a different kind of approach altogether, sort of imploring people to trust her because the strong and stable mask has slipped.”
He accused Ms May of having set out on the wrong foot with the EU – early on the campaign she accused Brussels of trying to swing the UK’s election – while manoeuvring herself into a corner for negotiations.
“She has taken lots of options off the table and really set a belligerent tone with our EU colleagues,” he said.
“There is nothing wrong with being tough, we would be tough, but we’ve also got to get the right deal. Aggravating and agitating isn’t necessary and has got us off to a very bad start.
“What we want here is tough, but 21st-century professional negotiation that is flexible and smart.”
The former Director of Public Prosecutions said a week had not gone by since last autumn, in which he had not spoken with leaders in national government, ambassadors and figures at the European Commission and EU Council.
If Labour wins the election on 8 June, a raft of calls will be put in to the capitals of Europe within hours, he said.
Sir Keir went on: “We would call all of the appropriate EU negotiators very early on, to make sure there is a different tone, a different approach, and that what we are seeking is obviously not membership – that was taken off the table at the referendum – but a partnership that works for trade based on collaboration and cooperation.
“The approach the Prime Minster has taken got us off to a very bad start – the reset button needs to be pressed on day one.”
One of the things Ms May has been unequivocal on is her intention to end the European Court of Justice’s influence in the UK, something EU negotiators see as particularly difficult.
Should I vote Tory? May's biggest policies explained
Should I vote Tory? May's biggest policies explained
Theresa May has made extremely clear that she would take the country out of the single market and the customs union, but will seek a new “deep and special partnership with the EU.” Not being in the single market would allow the UK to take control of the roughly 40 per cent of overall immigration that comes from EU countries, but business groups have warned it poses a significant risk to the economy. It is not clear what a “new deep and special partnership would mean” and Angela Merkel, among others, has been clear that non EU-members cannot have a preferential set of trading arrangements than members.
Theresa May remains committed to the target of reducing immigration to the”tens of thousands” and will not remove students, who tend to go home at the end of their studies, from the figures. It will also raise the earnings threshold for immigrants who wish to sponsor visas for their partners and other family.
Yui Mok/PA Wire
3/7 The Economy
The Conservatives would seek to increase the national living wage to 60 per cent of median earnings by 2020 The manifesto promises to introduce an “energy tariff cap” to protect the most vulnerable customers, but wants to maintain a “competitive element” within the energy market The deadline of eliminating the deficit by 2015 is, of course, long gone, but the 2025 commitment to do so is in place. The manifesto also ditches old plans not to increase national insurance or income tax. Balancing the budget by 2025 is highly likely to require one or the other to happen, or both.
The manifesto raises the tax personal allowance to £12,500 and the higher rate to £50,000 by 2020, meaning a large proportion of the population will pay less income tax It will also introduce legislation that would force local councils to offer a referendum before making major council tax increases. It is very hard to imagine any such referendum ever resulting in the required raise. In marked contrast to Labour, the party is committed to lowering corporation tax yet further, to 17% by 2020. This low figure is considered crucial to attracting investment to the UK in the wake of the Brexit vote. From 2020, the pensions “triple lock” would be replaced by double lock, meaning pensions would rise in line with whichever is higher of inflation or earnings, but the minimum 2.5 per cent rise would go.
The manifesto commits to building 1m homes by the end of 2020 and 500,000 more by the end of 2022, but all similar targets by Labour, Conservative and coalition governments have been missed, and there is little in the way of detail on how to achieve it. New social housing would come with fixed terms for tenants, which the automatic right to buy after 10 to 15 years occupancy.
The Conservative manifesto sets out clear plans to develop the fracking industry, compared to Labour who seek to ban it.
7/7 Defence and foreign policy
The Conservatives are committed to meeting Nato targets of 2 per cent GDP spending on defence It would retain Trident, and spent £178bn in new military equipment over the next decade, including the new Astute class of hunter-killer submarines Theresa May has placed considerable emphasis on the “special relationship” with the US, which could prove crucial in a future US/UK trade deal. But the UK’s longstanding foreign policy position, of being, in effect, America’s representative in Europe, will come to an end, arguably in symmetry with America’s standing on the global stage.
In its opening demands, the European Commission called for the body not only to guarantee the Brexit deal, but also the rights of EU citizens living in Britain after withdrawal and potentially adjudicate future trade disputes.
Asked whether Labour would countenance the ECJ as guarantor for EU citizens’ rights in the UK after Brexit, Sir Keir said: “I can’t see how that would work.
“As a fundamental principle I can’t agree a two-tier system for access to any court, whether it’s the ECJ or any court.
“In our system of law, where there is a court people have equal access to it. I’ve seen that idea put out by the Commission, but I don’t think that’s a workable solution.”
But Sir Keir suggests it may be advantageous for the ECJ to have some role settling future trade disputes, as part of the new free trade agreement Britain desires with the EU.
He explained: “If you are a business and you are trading with EU companies, you need to have an answer to the question ‘what do I do when things go wrong? Where do I go to resolve my dispute?’
“That is Theresa May’s black hole, she has no answer.
“I’m not arguing for an unchanged role for the ECJ. I am saying where is the dispute resolution for individuals and businesses under a new agreement with the EU?”
If sent in to bat for Britain, Labour’s chosen negotiator will have to convince Brussels the UK should have tariff-free access to the single market while ending freedom of movement in Britain – the party’s stated approach.
Despite signals from Europe that the goal may be unachievable, Sir Keir remains optimistic, observing: “We are at the beginning of negotiations, not the end.”
He added: “I don’t accept that we start the negotiations on the proposition that they will inevitably fail. I start on the basis that we set out what we want to achieve.
“The EU has negotiated 34 or 36 agreements involving 60 countries. I simply don’t accept that we can’t reach an agreement that works for us and works for the EU.”Reuse content