Jeremy Corbyn has promised to fight for a Brexit settlement that protects jobs and living standards as he held talks in Brussels with the European Union’s chief negotiator.
The Labour leader held talks lasting more than two hours with Michel Barnier during a visit which he hopes will show he is a prime minister-in-waiting, ready to take over Brexit if there is a change of government.
Mr Corbyn, who was joined by shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, told Mr Barnier that Labour respects the result of last June’s referendum.
But he said the party was seeking a Brexit that protects jobs and would not cut a “sweetheart deal” with the US which would undermine the Paris climate change agreement and hit living standards in the UK.
Image: Mr Corbyn’s offering of an Arsenal shirt to Mr Barnier got a thumbs up
Mr Corbyn confirmed his unilateral offer of citizens’ rights for EU nationals living in the UK post-Brexit still stands and said Labour was ready to pay “what we are legally required” to the EU as part of exit negotiations.
Emerging from the talks, Mr Corbyn characterised the discussions as “very interesting, very frank”.
The Labour leader presented Mr Barnier with an Arsenal shirt with his surname printed on the back, while the French politician gave the Gunners fan a poster of the Savoie region of France.
Mr Barnier was also given a copy of Labour’s election manifesto, with Mr Corbyn quipping: “Now he’s got two things in red – a shirt and a book.”
The Labour leader is also due to meet European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans and the head of the UK representation in Brussels, as well as representatives of European Socialist parties.
Image: Mr Barnier gave Mr Corbyn a poster of the Savoie region of France
Speaking ahead of the visit, Mr Corbyn said Labour is “a government in waiting” ready to “take up the responsibility for Brexit negotiations”.
He added: “In contrast to the Conservatives’ megaphone diplomacy, we will conduct relations with our European neighbours respectfully and in the spirit of friendship.”
Mr Corbyn added: “Labour would negotiate a jobs-first Brexit deal which puts the economy, jobs and living standards front and centre.
“Labour would unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK because it’s the right thing to do.
“Labour wants to work with other countries to build a different Europe, one which promotes human rights and environmental protections, celebrates the positive and complementary contributions of European nations, and where trade is fair and sustainable.”
Video: Corbyn: Johnson’s approach to EU ‘ridiculous’
Conservative MP James Cleverly said Mr Corbyn “wouldn’t negotiate in Brexit talks, he would surrender”.
“He has made clear Labour would accept any deal on offer – even if it was designed to punish Britain,” Mr Cleverly said.
“Labour have had at least nine different plans for Brexit since last year’s referendum and are still hopelessly divided on the fundamental questions such as controlling our borders and our laws.
“Only the Conservatives will get a Brexit deal which works for the whole of the UK and allows us to seize the exciting opportunities ahead as we leave the EU.”
Mr Barnier also held talks with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones at his office in the European Commission headquarters.