Brexit: Labour to back Tory rebels on final deal, says Keir Starmer

Shadow Brexit Secretary calls for a string of changes to be made to the Brexit bill

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Sunday 22 October 2017 14:40 BST
Sir Keir accused the Government of stalling the bill’s progress over fear of defeats
Sir Keir accused the Government of stalling the bill’s progress over fear of defeats

Labour would back Tory rebels to force Theresa May to give MPs a veto on the final Brexit deal, Sir Keir Starmer has said.

The Shadow Brexit Secretary said his party would back a Tory revolt unless Ms May accepted a number of changes to the Brexit bill, which will transfer EU law onto the domestic statute books after Britain withdraws from the bloc.

The ultimatum will come as a blow to the weakened Prime Minister, who is trying to shepherd the flagship legislation through the Commons despite losing her Tory majority in the general election.

Sir Keir accused the Government of stalling the bill’s progress over fear of defeats, as Tory backbenchers joined opposition parties in tabling more than 300 amendments and new clauses to the repeal bill.

Some 13 amendments have been tabled by Conservative rebels, including a key move by former attorney general Dominic Grieve that would require an act of Parliament to enact Brexit.

Writing in The Sunday Times, Sir Keir said: “I believe there is a consensus in Parliament for these changes. And there is certainly no majority for weakening rights, silencing Parliament and sidelining the devolved administrations.

“There is a way through this paralysis.

“Labour will work with all sides to make that happen.”

The general election result left Ms May relying on votes from the Democratic Unionist Party to pass business through the Commons, meaning a small revolt by Tory MPs could derail the bill.

Sir Keir has demanded:

:: MPs get the “final say on whether to approve the withdrawal agreement and how best to implement it”.

:: The transition period requested by the Prime Minister is added into the legislation.

:: A “completely different approach” to the use of Henry VIII powers, which the Government argues it needs to make technical changes to regulations repatriated from Brussels, but which Sir Keir described as “silencing Parliament and handing sweeping powers” to ministers.

:: A guarantee that workers’ and consumer rights, as well as environmental standards, are not watered down after Brexit.

:: A concession to devolved administrations who want repatriated powers, which would normally fall under their remit to go straight to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, rather than first being taken over by the Westminster government.

:: Putting the EU charter of fundamental rights into UK law.

The Liberal Democrats said the move was "too little too late" and outlined their commitment to fight for Britain to remain a member of the European Union.

Tom Brake, the party’s Brexit spokesman, said: "It's entertaining to see the Labour front bench attempting to have a backbone, but it's too little too late.

"Despite similar posturing back in March, Corbyn and Starmer backed the Tories to trigger Article 50, and they are still denying the British people a say on the final deal.

"Only the Lib Dems are offering an exit from Brexit, and an opportunity for the UK to remain a member of the EU."

The intervention comes after EU leaders agreed to begin considering trade talks, but they made clear Britain must make further concessions on its divorce bill to unlock talks on a future trading relationship.

Brexit Secretary David Davis will travel to Paris for dinner with French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Monday after France emerged as one of the more hardline EU states on the matter of the exit bill.

President Emmanuel Macron suggested figures coming out of Britain were far from what was needed for settling its financial settlement – which is estimated to be at least £20bn.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt has told the Prime Minister to confront Boris Johnson and other Brexiteers, offer concessions to the EU, and outline what sort of trade deal the Government wants.

He told The Mail on Sunday: “This may require Theresa May to face down Boris Johnson and others in her own party who refuse to accept the reality of the Brexit they campaigned for ... Brexiteers failed to outline the extent of UK liabilities in Europe.

“Nevertheless, what is clear is that it will not be the taxpayers of the European Union who pay Britain’s bar bill.”

Ms May is due to update MPs on the recent Council summit in the Commons on Monday, when she will reaffirm her commitment to three million EU nationals living in the UK who make an “extraordinary contribution”, saying “we want them to stay”.

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