Gordon Brown's press conference -- live blog

Live coverage of the PM's regular press conference

10:46am David Cameron has had his monthly outing in front of the press. Now it's Gordon Brown's turn.

Follow The Staggers from 11am for full coverage.

11:01am Brown begins with Afghanistan. He says the London conference will see new Nato and Afghan troop levels announced.

11:03am He says he's confident the economy is emerging from recession but warns that the UK and the world economy remain fragile. We must not cut the deficit this year in a way that threatens growth and jobs, he says.

11:04am Brown announces that 100,000 unemployed young people are now eligible for a guaranteed job or training programme. He says they must accept the jobs on offer or risk losing their benefits.

11:06am He says that the government's economic plans will "expand the middle class not squeeze it".

11:08am The questions begin with Sky's Adam Boulton. He asks Brown if he really believes he can trim the Budget deficit yet avoid cuts to "front-line services". Brown says that the biggest threat to the recovery is not continuing with the action the government is taking, the reverse of Cameron's position.

11:10am Nick Robinson asks if the PM can be honest about the risks of not tackling the deficit. Brown says his judgement has been proved right throughout the economic crisis. He says he is right not to withdraw fiscal stimulus now.

11:14am After Bob Ainsworth let the date slip yesterday, Brown is asked if he can confirm that the election will be on 6 May. He replies by joking that Ainsworth suggested we need to prevent the Conservatives from winning the "council elections" (also on 6 May).

11:19am Nick Watt from the Guardian asks Brown if he agrees with Alistair Darling's statement that cutting the Budget deficit will lead to the toughest spending round in 20 years. Brown insists that, unlike some other countries, his government has already made key decisions on tax rises and restructuring the economy.

11:21am Brown is asked if he is taking a big risk by giving evidence to the Iraq inquiry before the election. He replies that he isn't, "because I stand by all the actions I have taken". He adds that he welcomes the chance to explain the decisions the government took.

11:26am Brown is asked how the Afghanistan conference will persuade President Karzai to commit to specific measures to tackle corruption. He says that action is being taken through the introduction of an anti-corruption task force on which external advisers will sit.

He says the coalition's strategy is to "split the Taliban" by persuading mercenaries to leave the group.

11:30am The PM is asked how would he characterise the differences between Labour and the Conservatives on national security. He says the government has trebled the national security budget since 2001 and has taken legislative action to respond to the terrorist threat, though he concedes this has been "controversial". He adds that the defence budget was cut "savagely" under the last Tory government.

11:37am Bloomberg asks Brown for his response to Goldman Sachs's decision to the cap the pay of its partners at £1m. He says there is a big danger that the banks want to return to the "bad old ways", with rewards unrelated to risk.

11:41am Channel 4's Gary Gibbon asks if windfall money from lower benefit payouts will go towards deficit reduction. Brown says that the government is prepared to make "difficult decisions" and cut the deficit, but it will not be distracted by people "shouting" that we need to cut the deficit today.

11:44am Brown says that the Tories produce policy documents whose one characteristic is that they "contain no new policy".

11:46am Asked if he supports the campaign to save general election night, Brown says that the timing of the count is a matter for returning officers.

11:49am Brown refuses to confirm whether he supports abolishing the law allowing firms to force people to retire at 65.

11:56am Asked about the defence budget, Brown says there is "no danger" the Afghanistan campaign will be underfinanced.

11:57am Pressed on where spending cuts will fall, Brown says that due to uncertainty over economic growth it would be premature to allocate money to departments now.

12:00 noon A rare question on climate change. Brown is asked if some of the mistakes made by the IPCC undermine attempts to secure international agreement on climate change. He replies: "No, because I think the academic evidence as a whole leads to one conclusion: that we need to tackle climate change."

12:04pm A Middle Eastern journalist asks if Brown believes the Yemeni government is committed to tackling terrorism. Brown says that he believes the government can be trusted.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Leader: Labour and the Brexit debacle

The party appears to favour having its cake and eating it – yet the dilemma is not insuperable.

In the year since a narrow majority of people voted to leave the European Union, the Brexit project has not aged well. Theresa May’s appeal to the electorate to “strengthen” her hand in negotiations was humiliatingly rejected in the general election. Having repeatedly warned of a “coalition of chaos” encompassing ­Labour and the Scottish National Party, the Prime Minister has been forced to strike a panicked parliamentary deal with the Democratic Unionist Party. European leaders have been left bewildered by events in the United Kingdom.

The Brexiteers, who won the referendum on a fraudulent prospectus, have struggled to cope with the burden of responsibility. In the manner of Dr Pangloss, they maintain that the UK will flourish outside the EU and that those who suggest otherwise are too pessimistic, or even unpatriotic. Yet wishful thinking is not a strategy. Though the immediate recession forecast by the Treasury has been avoided, the cost of Brexit is already being borne in squeezed living standards (owing to the pound’s depreciation) and delayed investment decisions.

At the same time, far from disintegrating as the most ardent Leavers predicted, the EU is recovering, with a revival of the Franco-German axis under Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel. Donald Trump’s antics have dispelled the illusion that “the Anglosphere” can function as an alternative to the bloc. Britain has embarked on the great task of withdrawal at a time of profound national and global instability.

For all this, the Brexiteers retain an indisputable mandate. What the Brexiteers have no mandate for is their model of withdrawal. And there is a nascent majority in the House of Commons for a “soft” exit. Roughly two-thirds of voters remain supportive of Brexit but they have no desire to harm the economy in the process. A recent YouGov survey found that 58 per cent believe Britain should trade freely with the EU, even at the cost of continued free movement into Britain.

In these circumstances, Labour has profited from ambiguity. Jeremy Corbyn’s promise to uphold the referendum result and to end free movement won the respect of Leavers in the election. His pro-migration rhetoric and promise of a “jobs-first” Brexit impressed Remainers, who were in the mood to give the Tories a bloody nose. Although Labour fell 64 seats short of a majority, it partly spanned a divide that had been considered unbridgeable.

Mr Corbyn’s desire to avoid the cross-party Brexit commission proposed by some commentators and MPs is understandable. As Ed Smith observes on page 22, Brexit is a metaphorical “plague” that contaminates all those who touch it, claiming one Conservative prime minister and fatally infecting another. The Tories, who inflicted an unnecessary EU referendum on the UK, must not redistribute the blame.

As the Brexit negotiations progress, however, Labour cannot maintain its opacity. While vowing to retain “the benefits of the single market and the customs union”, it has also pledged to “end” freedom of movement. Like the risible ­Boris Johnson, Labour appears to favour having its cake and eating it. Yet the dilemma is not insuperable.

The logical extension of the party’s vow to give the economy priority over immigration control is to support continued single-market membership. This is the most practical and reliable means of ensuring that Britain’s dominant services sector retains the access it requires. Membership of the customs union would ensure the same for manufacturers. Economic retreat from the EU, which accounts for 44 per cent of all UK exports, would unavoidably reduce growth and living standards.

Such an arrangement need not entail continued free movement, however. Under existing EU rules (not applied by the UK), immigrants resident for longer than three months must prove that they are working (employed or self-employed) or a registered student, or have “sufficient resources” to support themselves and not be “a burden on the benefits system”.

It falls to Labour, as a reinvigorated and increasingly popular opposition, to chart an alternative to the ideological Brexiteers on the Tory benches as well as in the virulent right-wing press. Is Mr Corbyn a covert Brexiteer? It does not really matter. What matters is that he leads a party of committed Europeans who have no wish to see Britain humiliated, its influence in the world reduced, and its economy damaged by the folly of the Brexit debacle. 

This article first appeared in the 29 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit plague

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