LONDON (Reuters) - Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn criticized the government on Tuesday for failing business with its “botched” Brexit plan, saying only his Labour Party could make Britain’s departure from the European Union work for manufacturers.
Unveiling a Labour campaign to boost manufacturing and keep public contracts in Britain, Corbyn took aim at Prime Minister Theresa May for driving a Brexit plan that would leave Britain “in hock to Donald Trump”.
In a bid to sell the benefits of his Brexit vision of negotiating a new customs union, Corbyn piled pressure on May, who is struggling to sell her plans to not only the competing factions in her governing Conservative Party but across Britain just over eight months before the country is due to leave.
But Corbyn also faces dissent in his party, with many Labour lawmakers and members calling for him to back a second referendum on any deal and support keeping the closest possible ties with the EU by staying in its single market and customs union.
“Theresa May and her warring cabinet should think again, even at this late stage, and reconsider the option of negotiating a brand new customs union,” Corbyn told the EEF manufacturers’ organization in the city of Birmingham.
“A botched ... Brexit will sell our manufacturers short with the fantasy of a free trading buccaneering future, which in reality would be a nightmare of chlorinated chicken, public services sold to multinational companies and our country in hock to Donald Trump,” he said in a speech.
May has often said she wants to forge a free trade agreement with U.S. President Donald Trump after Brexit, but some lawmakers fear the government could open the door to imports of U.S. beef that contains growth hormones, chicken washed in chlorinated water and genetically modified organisms.
The government has frequently said it will not lower its standards and will pursue a “business-friendly” Brexit, but with its plans opposed by many in Britain, Corbyn senses his vision may find more support.
No election is due in Britain until 2022 but Labour is preparing for a vote, aware that the Conservatives are increasingly at war with each other over Brexit.
Conservative Robert Jenrick, a minister at the finance department, said Corbyn’s words were “laughable coming from the Labour Party who oversaw millions of jobs lost and a record decline in manufacturing”.
Corbyn’s speech, “Build it in Britain”, was a direct appeal for the backing of British companies, promising more support from the state.
He said again that a Labour government would pursue “exemptions or clarifications” on state aid rules, which prevent countries handing organizations an advantage by using state resources, from the EU, something the bloc may not agree to.
“But whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, we will use the powers we have to the full. Where there is a will there is a way and if we need to support our manufacturing sector we will find a way to do it,” he said.
Highlighting that some business and union groups support trying to negotiate a new customs union, Corbyn went further to say he would also try to bring public contracts back in-house.
“Labour will reprogram our economy so that it works for the people of Britain and not against them,” he said. “And we will build this economy, this future fair for all, right here in Britain.”
Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Ros Russell and Alison Williams