Labour has launched its European election campaign and manifesto, with Jeremy Corbyn setting out the key policies and messages in Kent.
Below is the full speech delivered at the launch by Jeremy Corbyn.
“No one expected us to be holding these European elections but the government’s complete failure on Brexit means they are going ahead against a backdrop of division and frustration.
A vote for Labour is a vote to bring our divided country back together. Labour is the only party with a plan to unite our country to make it work for the many, not the few.
We will end austerity invest in our economy and our communities and raise wages and living standards.
Labour’s alternative plan for Brexit which protects jobs, living standards and communities would end the chaos caused by the Conservatives and let us focus on the other big issues facing our country.
It’s a real and credible plan that would allow the next Labour government to rebuild our manufacturing industries. And restore pride and prosperity to parts of our country that have been neglected for too long. That neglect was, I believe, a major reason behind the vote for Brexit in the first place.
Three years of botched negotiations between the Government and the European Union have left everyone frustrated. Over 17 million people voted to leave the European Union. As democratic socialists, we cannot ignore that.
We voted to trigger Article 50 in 2017 and promised to respect the referendum in our general election manifesto and again at our party conference last year. But we cannot respect the government’s shambolic handling of Brexit that has caused huge uncertainty for people, businesses and jobs.
When Theresa May became Prime Minister she didn’t consult either Parliament or the country. Brexit policy was announced through a series of speeches declared, never discussed.
What we got was three years of the Tories spending more time arguing with themselves than negotiating with Europe. What the Prime Minister finally cooked up led to the biggest government defeat in parliamentary history.
It wasn’t until that damaging deal had been defeated three times and the Government had already missed its own deadline for leaving that the Prime Minister finally admitted she needed to compromise.
Labour agreed to talks because we believed it was the right thing to do to see if we could get a better deal in line with our plan and the needs of businesses and trade unions a deal that would see us leave the European Union but keep a close relationship with our major trading partners. So far in those talks, there has been no big offer, and the red lines remain.
It’s difficult negotiating with a disintegrating government with cabinet ministers jockeying for the succession, rather than working for an agreement. It’s in the country’s interests to try to get this sorted one way or another.
But we can never accept the government’s bad deal or a disastrous No Deal. So if we can’t get a sensible deal, along the lines of our alternative plan or a general election, Labour backs the option of a public vote.
I am very worried about how divided our society has become. Every week I go to a different part of the country to campaign to meet people and to listen. And over the last year, I’ve seen the divisions around Brexit grow.
In communities and families, there are real tensions. So how do we go forward? We could all retreat to our respective side of the argument and let bitterness drive us further apart.
We could allow ourselves to be defined only as ‘remainers’ or ‘leavers’ labels that meant nothing to us only a few years ago. But where would that take us? Who wants to live in a country stuck in this endless loop?
What’s needed is a bit of understanding. Understanding of why so many people felt so frustrated with the system that they voted to leave. And understanding of why so many others believe that staying in the EU is the only way to protect our open and diverse society.
Some people seem to look at the issue the wrong way around. They tend to think the first question is leave or remain as if either is an end in itself. I think they’re wrong.
The first question is what kind of society do we want to be? And on that people can find so much common ground.
Labour, and only Labour stands on that common ground in this election. That’s why we insist the real divide in our country is not how people voted in the EU referendum. The real divide is between the many and the few.
Whether you’re from Tottenham or Mansfield, Stockwell or Stoke here in Medway or Manchester so many of the problems you face are the same.
And while the government’s incompetence and divisions over Brexit have created this deadlock the injustices in our society are deepening. Those injustices aren’t to do with backstops, implementation periods and all that obscure jargon.
They’re about whether your children will go to a school that can afford the basics or one that has to send begging letters to parents. Whether your relatives will be treated quickly and safely on the NHS or wait in pain and distress for months.
Whether your parents will get a helping hand in old age or be left isolated and afraid. And whether we as a country can end the burning injustices in our society that Theresa May once talked of but did nothing about.
Austerity insecure work and low wages cause anger and disillusion. Some want to use that to stoke further division. But it wasn’t the EU that slashed public services to pay for tax cuts for the richest it was Tory governments.
It wasn’t nurses and teachers who crashed our economy it was the bankers and hedge funds. And it wasn’t immigrants who caused the biggest squeeze on wages since the Napoleonic Wars it was bad employers.
We need solutions, not scapegoats. When you blame your neighbour rather than the powerful for problems with the health system or for overcrowded classrooms or for a lack of housing you’re letting those responsible off the hook.
You haven’t trained a doctor or a nurse you haven’t opened a new school you haven’t built a house you haven’t secured a penny of extra investment. All you’ve done is fuel an atmosphere of division and nastiness.
It’s only by coming together and working together that we can improve people’s lives. Labour will stand up for all workers, black and white. And we will guarantee the rights of EU citizens and students in this country and British people who want to work and study in the EU.
We are internationalists to our core. So when we see the emboldened far right strutting its stuff across Europe and in this country too in the shape of UKIP and its hangers-on our response is to strengthen our ties with working class and progressive movements both at home and abroad.
The biggest issues facing us like tax avoidance and the power of multinational corporations are international issues that demand international solutions. And the biggest issue of all the climate and environment emergency that threatens everyone’s future cannot be averted by one country alone.
Climate breakdown air pollution and the frightening loss of species demand collaboration across borders. And I am proud that Labour led the way last week to make the UK parliament be the first in the world to declare an environment and climate emergency.
I hope our action sparks a wave of declarations of a climate emergency by parliaments and governments around the world. So we will always cooperate closely with our progressive allies in Europe and across the world.
These elections are also a chance to challenge the poison being peddled by the likes of Nigel Farage. He says Brexit is being blocked by the elite. It’s not true. The large majority of MPs have voted for a Brexit deal in one form or another.
The Brexit party is in fact the No Deal party. And for millions, No Deal would mean no jobs. An economic shock threatening entire industries. And here in Kent, turning the M20 into a permanent lorry park, causing massive disruption.
It would be an elite Brexit that would only work for the richest. Who wants to deregulate slash public services and rights at work still further. It would be a Donald Trump Brexit leaving us at the mercy of a reckless and bellicose US administration.
Nigel Farage’s Brexit is a Brexit for conspiracy theorists. For those who see Muslims and migrants or George Soros as the enemy. Only Labour can see off the Farage snake oil in this election. And stand by our country’s values of tolerance, openness and diversity.
It’s said that Labour is trying to offer something to everyone over Brexit. I make no apology for that. Labour will never be the party of the 52 per cent or of the 48 per cent.
We are the part of the great majority who reject the politics of smear and scapegoating. In favour of unity for social justice.
Other parties appeal to just one side of the Brexit debate because they aren’t really committed to taking on the tax dodgers the big polluters or the financial gamblers who crashed our economy a decade ago.
To transform our country and tackle injustice, inequality and the climate crisis we need to unite the overwhelming majority of people and take on the privileged and powerful.
Labour will address the inequalities that helped fuel the Brexit vote by investing in our communities and people ending austerity and creating a fairer society. And we will lead the fight against racism at home and across Europe wherever and however it arises.
It is Labour that wants to bring our country back together. So whether you voted leave or remain in 2016, I urge you to vote Labour the party that is determined to bring the many together and take on the entrenched power of the few.”