Election 2017: Jeremy Corbyn refuses to say UK will definitely leave the EU if he is prime minister

'Look there's a clear vote in the referendum a year ago. But there is now the negotiations which have already begun'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 09 May 2017 15:47 BST
The Labour leader had earlier described Brexit as ‘settled’
The Labour leader had earlier described Brexit as ‘settled’ (Reuters)

Jeremy Corbyn has refused six times to say Britain will definitely leave the EU if he is prime minister – despite declaring the issue “settled”.

Quizzed by the BBC, the Labour leader declined to say Brexit would be completed “come hell or high water, whatever the deal on the table”.

“Look there's a clear vote in the referendum a year ago. But there is now the negotiations which have already begun,” Mr Corbyn replied.

After the question was asked a second time, after setting out his determination to protect tariff-free trade, he said: “We will go into the negotiations with the determination to achieve what I've just outlined.”

Asked, a third time, if he would take the UK out of the EU “whatever is on the table”, Mr Corbyn said only: “We win the election, we'll get the good deal with Europe.”

When asked if there was “a chink of a possibility” that Brexit could be aborted if Labour was in power, he instead attacked Theresa May’s tactic of being “abusive to people across the Channel”.

“We are negotiating a trade arrangement with Europe and protection of the things that we've gained from the European Union,” Mr Corbyn then replied, when asked to “address that point specifically”.

The confusion follows Labour, last month, dangling the possibility of delaying Brexit if the exit deal negotiated with EU leaders is rejected by MPs.

However, embarrassingly for Corbyn, his evasion came just hours after he declared the question of EU withdrawal to be “settled” at his election campaign launch.

“This election isn't about Brexit itself. That issue has been settled. The question now is what sort of Brexit do we want – and what sort of country do we want Britain to be after Brexit?” he told a Manchester rally.

Brexit Secretary David Davis seized on the interview, saying: “The chaotic incoherence of Jeremy Corbyn’s approach to Brexit means that the 27 other EU countries would make mincemeat of him in the negotiations.

“This morning he said he was settled on leaving the EU – this afternoon he can’t say whether he will do it.”

Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesman, said: “Jeremy Corbyn's Labour is refusing to give people the final say no matter how bad the Brexit deal on offer.”

In the interview with the BBC, Mr Corbyn said he had set out his priorities in a letter sent to “President-elect Macron last night congratulating him on his election.”

They would be “to have good relations with Europe of course, secondly to make sure there is a trade access, a tariff free trade access, to European markets”.

Mr Corbyn added: “Thirdly, that we will of course protect the rights of EU nationals living in Britain which we will do straight away.

“And that we will also ensure that the regulations that we got from the European Union such as Working Time Directive and employment conditions will be defended and maintained. It has to be put very clearly.”

Last month, Keir Starmer, Labour’s Brexit spokesman, said the party – unlike Theresa May – was willing to “go back to the negotiating table” if the first exit deal was rejected by Parliament. That could mean the UK staying in the UK past the March 2019 exit date, while the negotiations continue, Sir Keir suggested.

However, it may not be possible to delay Brexit beyond the two-year timetable set out in the Article 50 withdrawal process without the agreement of other EU leaders and the European Parliament.

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