British Labour Party leader chief Jeremy Corbyn and the leaders of Scotland and Wales met the EU’s Brexit negotiator in Brussels on Thursday as the London government launched legislation to cut ties with the European Union.
Their separate meetings with Michel Barnier were not negotiations, they said – Barnier stressed he will conduct those only with Prime Minister Theresa May’s government, starting with a full round of talks in Brussels next week.
“My door is open, listen to all Brexit views,” he tweeted, while adding: “Next week negotiations with UK gov(ernment).”
But opposition chief Corbyn; Carwyn Jones, the Labour first minister of Wales; and Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish Nationalist first minister in Edinburgh, all said they made cases for keeping close EU ties to protect jobs.
Such demands could disrupt the Conservative May’s plans to push the new legislation through a parliament where she lost her majority in last month’s election.
“This is not about holding separate Scottish negotiations,” Sturgeon said, adding she had told Barnier of her demand that May change her stance and keep Britain in the EU single market. “However, meetings like this are helpful in developing a mutual understanding between the Scottish government and the EU.”
Jones noted that the EU is the destination for two thirds of exports from Wales, where a majority of people voted for Brexit. He said in a statement: “It is absolutely vital that we retain full and unfettered access to the single market. It would be irresponsible to turn our back on this.”
Corbyn called his lunch with Barnier “very informative” and said he used the opportunity to explain Labour’s decision to back Brexit after opposing it during the 2016 EU referendum, while aiming to hold May to a course that would protect workers.
“We not negotiating,” he said. “We’re forming an opinion of what the European Union wants in this and representing views of people who voted for us, in particular on protection of jobs.”
He criticized government plans that he said were an attempt to limit parliamentary scrutiny of the Brexit legislation.