Speaking at the European Parliamentary Labour Party (EPLP) fringe event looking at the "View from Europe" of Brexit, Labour's sister parties in the EU have warned the UK government against a Brexit deal that undermines workers' rights, citizens' rights and environmental standards - and attacked Tory ministers' rhetoric and attitude in the negotiations.
Members of the panel called for citizens’ rights to be a red line in Brexit negotiations, adding that while the UK must not have a better settlement than EU membership, they hope that “our relationship as sister parties isn’t going to change. There is a common understanding and we have to continue to build on that”.
The Irish border issue was a major talking point, as there are 375,000 Irish citizens in the UK and 277,000 UK citizens in Ireland. Leader of the Irish Labour Party Brendan Howlin said no issue will have as big an impact on Ireland as Brexit, adding that there will be “no hard border on the island of Ireland – people will not tolerate it.” He also called on Sinn Féin to "abandon their policy of absenteeism" and take up their Westminster seats to oppose Brexit.
Theresa Griffin MEP, Chair of the EPLP, added that there will be no backing from Labour MEPs for a deal that undermines the Northern Ireland peace process or one that “opens the door to attacks on workers’ rights”.
Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Kier Starmer also joined the debate and expressed his concern at the Tory government’s approach to Brexit negotiations, calling it “really troubling – you don’t insult your allies”.
Labour MEPs for the North East of England, Paul Brannen and Jude Kirton-Darling, both attended the event to hear Labour’s sister parties in the EU discuss Brexit.
Paul Brannen MEP said: “Great to hear from some of our closest allies in Europe who agree that citizens’ rights and workers’ rights should be the focus of Brexit negotiations and that a guarantee from the UK government is now long overdue.
“The view from the EU is that Theresa May and her Brexit team are botching negotiations. The clock is ticking and in the six months since Article 50 was triggered this government has only managed one thing: to paint themselves as incompetent and unprepared.”
Jude Kirton-Darling MEP added: “Labour’s sister parties in the EU stand united with us in our fight to protect citizens’ and workers’ rights whilst Theresa May’s government squabbles.
“It is also clear that this mirrors our party’s stance even at regional level. As MEPs for the North East, Paul and I have called for our region to have a strong voice in the negotiations by setting out five key aims, including that not a single job should be lost and not a single right should be revoked as a result of Brexit.”