Gordon Brown’s statement: full transcript

“I have no desire to stay in my position longer than is needed.”

Gordon Brown, 5pm, Monday 10 May 2010:

We have a parliamentary and not presidential system in this country, and as I said on Friday, with no party able to command a parliamentary majority arising from the general election, my constitutional duty as Prime Minister is to ensure that government continues while parties explore options for forming a new administration with majority support in the House of Commons.

The business of government has continued, including concerted action in Europe today to avert the financial crisis in the euro area. Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, spent much of his time yesterday in the European finance ministers' meeting in Brussels.

This morning I have had conversations with the president of the European Council, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund and the president of the European Central Bank. I have said I would do all I could to ensure that a stable, strong and principled government is formed, able to tackle Britain's economic and political challenges effectively.

As we know, the Liberal Democrats felt that they should first talk to the Conservative Party. Mr Clegg has just informed me that while he intends to continue his dialogue that he has begun with the Conservatives, he now wishes also to take forward formal discussions with the Labour Party. I believe it is sensible and it is in the national interest to respond positively.

The cabinet will meet soon. A formal policy negotiating process is being established under the arrangements made by the Cabinet Secretary, similar to the negotiations between other parties. The first priority should be an agreed deficit reduction plan, to support economic growth and a return to full employment. I know that both parties recognise the importance of ensuring economic stability in the markets and protecting Britain's standing, and both are agreed on the need for a strong and full deficit reduction plan over the coming years.

There is also a progressive majority in Britain and I believe it could be in the interests of the whole country to form a progressive coalition government. In addition to the economic priorities, in my view only such a progressive government can meet the demand for political and electoral change which the British people made last Thursday. Our commitments on a new voting system for the House of Commons and for the election of the House of Lords are clearly part of this.

I would however like to say something also about my own position. If it becomes clear that the national interest, which is stable and principled government, can be best served by forming a coalition between the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, then I believe I should discharge that duty, to form that government, which would in my view command a majority in the House of Commons in the Queen's Speech and any other confidence votes.

But I have no desire to stay in my position longer than is needed to ensure the path to economic growth is assured and the process of political reform we have agreed moves forward quickly. The reason that we have a hung parliament is that no single party and no single leader was able to win the full support of the country. As leader of my party, I must accept that that is a judgement on me. I therefore intend to ask the Labour Party to set in train the processes needed for its own leadership election. I would hope that it would be completed in time for the new leader to be in post by the time of the Labour party conference. I will play no part in that contest, I will back no individual candidate.

I believe that the British people now want us to focus on the economy, the continuing fight against terrorism -- the terrorist threat to our country -- they want us to continue to pursue the economic recovery, and I will do so with my usual vigour and determination and I will do all in my power to support the British troops whose service and sacrifice create a debt of gratitude we can never fully repay. And I believe on Thursday the country was also telling us that they want a new politics and that the political reforms we seek will help deliver that change. I now intend to facilitate the discussions that the Liberal Democratic party has asked for. Thank you very much. As you will understand, I will take no questions this evening. Other discussions can be had later. Thank you very much.

Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.