The party’s shadow Brexit secretary is travelling to Brussels on Wednesday for meetings with senior EU officials where he is expected to make clear that the opposition party is opposed to a so-called “blind Brexit”.
Any Brexit deal will include two elements. Firstly, a withdrawal agreement – solving separation issues like Ireland, the divorce bill and citizens rights. But Theresa May has also promised a separate “political declaration” – a detailed outline of what Britain’s future trade relationship with the EU will look like, mostly on trade.
It is this latter agreement that outlines whether Britain intends to join a customs union, follow single market rules, or sign a free trade agreement – and whether to adopt models like Norway or Canada.
Delays and missed deadlines in negotiating the withdrawal agreement, particularly on the Irish border issue, however means that negotiations about the nature of the future relationship have effectively not even started.
To make matters worse, Theresa May’s opening Chequers proposal was rejected as unworkable by the EU’s 27 remaining countries, and the prime minister has said she will not accept any other offer on the table.
Given the deadline to have everything agreed was October, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see how a substantial future relationship could be negotiated in time for the parliamentary vote.
Under laws passed by MPs earlier in the Brexit process, both the withdrawal agreement and political declaration must be presented to MPs before any vote can take place.
Ahead of his meetings in Brussels, Sir Keir said: “This is crunch time in the Brexit negotiations. Yet government divisions and delays mean that little time has been spent debating what our future trading and security relationship will be after Brexit.
“Months of deadlock in Theresa May’s government mean we’re facing continued uncertainty and the prospect of years of further negotiations over our future relationship with the EU.
“A blind Brexit could prolong business uncertainty and provide insufficient guarantees to protect jobs, the economy and rights. Whether you voted Leave or Remain, nobody voted for the purgatory of permanent negotiations.
“Theresa May and Dominic Raab promised that the Brexit deal put before parliament will be ‘detailed, precise and substantive’. That is exactly what Labour expects and what I will be discussing in Brussels. If the final deal it is anything less than the government has promised, Labour will not support it.”
Theresa May has said it would be difficult to pass any withdrawal agreement without a detailed outline of the future relationship. Whips are said to be particularly worried that MPs would balk at voting for a multibillion-pound divorce bill without any guarantees of a trade deal. The actual free trade agreement with the EU would be negotiated after Britain leaves, likely in the transition period.
Sir Keir is expected to meet EU officials including Frans Timmermans, the deputy head of the European Commission; Markus Winkler, a senior EU parliament official; and Roberto Gualtieri, a socialist member of the EU parliament’s Brexit steering group.
The shadow Brexit secretary met with Michel Barnier most recently in late September, alongside Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator will be out of town for this visit, attending a party conference in Finland.
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