More than 50 Labour MPs could back Brexit deal in new vote, MP suggests

Cross-party MPs for a Deal group calls on Johnson to build on Theresa May’s final Brexit proposals

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Tuesday 10 September 2019 13:47 BST
Cross-party group MPs For A Deal would support Tory deal

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Louise Thomas

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Fifty or more Labour MPs could be ready to rally behind a compromise Brexit agreement allowing Boris Johnson to avoid crashing out of the EU with no deal, one of the party’s most prominent supporters of a deal has said.

Caroline Flint was speaking at the launch of a cross-party group called MPs for a Deal, who said that an agreement with Brussels was the only way for Mr Johnson to dig himself out of the hole he has created by promising to deliver Brexit “do or die” by Halloween.

They called on the PM to build on the ideas drawn up by predecessor Theresa May in cross-party talks in the spring, when she offered concessions on workers’ rights, environmental and consumer protections and customs arrangements in the hope of winning Labour backing for her thrice-rejected withdrawal agreement.

Labour’s Stephen Kinnock said the group was not insisting on a “carbon copy” of the new deal set out by the former PM in a speech in May, which was never put to a vote in the Commons, but saw it as “the foundations of a deal”.

But Mr Johnson’s official spokesman poured cold water on the prospect of a solution based on the May speech, telling reporters: “You have seen the sort of areas the prime minister is talking about where he believes we need to make progress. I think they are different from those set out in that particular speech.”

In her “new deal”, Ms May offered a bill to enshrine European-level workers’ rights in law, a commitment to the highest environmental standards and a parliamentary vote on a temporary customs union for goods, as well as allowing MPs to decide on a second referendum.

By contrast, Mr Johnson has focused on the need for the removal of the Irish border backstop from the withdrawal agreement.

With Mr Johnson apparently ready to defy parliament and go for a no-deal Brexit in October, some Labour MPs have privately voiced regret that they did not back Ms May’s withdrawal agreement when they had a chance.

Mr Kinnock said: “We have something which is the basic foundations of a perfectly pragmatic deal that can command a majority in parliament and unite our deeply divided country. We hope that by 14 October at the latest, this prime minister will be ready to bring a deal to parliament. We will be backing that and supporting that because it’s the only way to take the country forward.”

Also attending the group’s launch were former Tory ministers Rory Stewart and Nick Boles, now sitting as independents, current Conservative MPs Victoria Prentis, Alex Chalk and Jeremy Lefroy, Liberal Democrat former minister Sir Norman Lamb and Labour’s Gloria De Piero, Kevin Barron and Emma Lewell-Buck.

They indicated that other MPs had voiced interest in a compromise deal.

Stephen Kinnock said May’s renegotiated agreement constituted the foundations of a deal
Stephen Kinnock said May’s renegotiated agreement constituted the foundations of a deal (BBC)

Ms Flint said: “We know there are about 50 Labour MPs who are interested in getting through this and getting to the other side of a deal. Twenty-six of us wrote to Jeremy Corbyn when Theresa May stood down saying we wanted a deal before 31 October. There are others who share our views.”

And Ms Prentis even suggested that the former prime minister might want to sign up, telling reporters: “I’m sure she’d be interested.”

The group vowed to work through the five-week suspension of Commons sittings to build support for a deal which Mr Johnson could negotiate at a crunch Brussels summit on 17 October and which the EU could have confidence in him getting through parliament.

“It may look like a long shot because of the polarisation we see,” said Lamb. “But when you see how the prime minister is in a hole, he has boxed himself in, he has got to find a way out of this mess and this is the way out.”

Mr Boles said the parliamentary arithmetic against a deal had changed because Tories were no longer dependent on the DUP for a majority, after Mr Johnson lost more than 20 Tories in one fell swoop last week.

And Mr Chalk said: “Something has changed. It’s a combination of the European elections and this sense of society being at boiling point. There’s a moral and democratic imperative to get this over the line. The mood has changed in parliament, there’s a much greater impetus to get this over the line.”

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