Theresa May is lying to get her Brexit deal through – even if that means thousands more people losing their jobs

Words matter when it comes to political declarations. But the prime minister is still claiming that it ‘provides for the benefits’ of a customs union when it does nothing of the sort

'We now all need to hold our nerve and deliver Brexit on time' Theresa May says Brexit talks are at 'cruicial stage'

The Brexit negotiations are reaching a crucial phase for all the key political players this is the endgame. There have also recently been a slew of job losses and closure announcements from major manufacturers like Honda, Nissan and Ford, each making it clear that this is not just “project fear”, this is a succession of real-time events that we actually need to be frightened of.

Outside of peace and war, discussions surrounding Brexit hardly get more serious than this. So it is extremely important that political leaders are honest in this debate. How else can the public make informed judgements? Sadly, that task is becoming increasingly difficult, as the prime minister has got into the habit of telling half-truths and complete untruths about Brexit.

Theresa May has posed false choices of “my deal or no deal”. She repeats the same misleading statements such as “there are substantive discussions with the EU on the backstop”. And she has resorted to complete distortion on the crucial matter of the customs union.

In her recent letter to the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the prime minister berated him for his consistent demand for membership of a customs union. And it is worth mentioning that it is a request which has the support of both business and trade unions. In the response to the Labour leader’s demands, the prime minister wrote: “As I explained when we met, the political declaration explicitly provides for the benefits of a customs union – no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all sectors and no checks on rules of origin (paragraph 23).”

This would be reassuring if it were true. The prime minister has misquoted the political declaration, and the misquotation helps her argument.

Here is the aforementioned paragraph 23 of the political declaration in full: “The economic partnership should ensure no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all sectors, with ambitious customs arrangements that, in line with the parties’ objectives and principles above, build and improve on the single customs territory provided for in the withdrawal agreement which obviates the need for checks on rules of origin.”

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The prime minister is effectively claiming that the political declaration “provides for the benefits” of a customs union when it does nothing of the sort. Looking at paragraph 23 in its entirety, it’s clear that this is, at best, May’s hope that the political declaration is as explicit as she suggests when it comes to membership of a customs union, not a gurantee. “Should” is the crucial word here.

It is an aspiration, and not something that will necessarily follow at all. It is also accompanied (for example in paragraph 26 of the declaration) by all sorts of wishes based for “facilitative arrangements and technologies” which have so far proved elusive if not illusory in relation to the backstop in Ireland.

Words matter. They particularly matter in treaties and political declarations. The withdrawal agreement, widely known as “May’s deal”, clearly sets out the objective of leaving both the customs union and the single market. Leaving them both is part of the prime minister’s many red lines.

Not only are May’s claims on the political declaration false, they are an attempt to obscure the decisive difference between her deal and Corbyn’s policy.

Corbyn is demanding that our economy is in a customs union with the closest possible relationship with the single market. The prime minister is willing to destroy tens of thousands of jobs and lower living standards as workers at Nissan, Ford and Honda are finding out. And the distortion of the truth is part and parcel of that plan.

Diane Abbott is shadow home secretary and MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington

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