Norway-style deal with EU will not prevent Northern Ireland hard border, shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer warns

‘We can’t pretend this is a winnable vote’ as many Labour MPs worried by EEA plan, says frontbencher

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Sunday 10 June 2018 17:53 BST
Keir Starmer insists EEA membership would not avoid a hard border in Ireland

Keir Starmer has said a Norway-style deal with the EU would not prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland, as he urged pro-EU Tories to “change the course of Brexit” talks by rebelling on a series of crunch votes in the House of Commons. The shadow Brexit secretary said becoming a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) – effectively keeping Britain in the single market – would be “totally incompatible” with the key issue of avoiding a border in Ireland.

It comes as MPs are gearing up for two days of parliamentary warfare over the EU withdrawal bill – the centrepiece of the government’s Brexit legislation.

Labour has tabled a parliamentary bid to force the government to negotiate a Brexit deal where the UK retains “full access” to the EU’s single market and that would ensure “no new impediments” to trade.

The move is designed to convince potential Labour rebels not to support a House of Lords amendment to keep Britain in the EEA, but pro-EU MPs in the party immediately rubbished the efforts as “nowhere near enough” to unite the party.

Labour’s amendment ”doesn’t tie us to a model that doesn’t work for Britain” but would pave the way for a “single market deal”, Sir Keir said.

Sir Keir told the BBC’s, The Andrew Marr Show: “In fact, if you are in the EEA, you are not in a customs union with the EU and to test that proposition, I went to Norway and then I went to the Norway-Sweden border to see for myself what does an EEA border look like?

“There is infrastructure there, there are checks there, you have to hand in your papers.

“It is totally incompatible with a solemn commitment to no hard border in Northern Ireland.”

He dismissed accusations that the amendment had prevented Labour from defeating the government, saying many Labour MPs were worried about EEA membership.

The frontbencher added: “We can’t pretend this is a winnable vote.”

However he urged rebel Tories to join with Labour on other key motions, such as giving parliament a meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal.

Sir Keir said: “If Tory MPs who do care about these amendments vote with us, then there is a real chance for parliament to change the course of the Brexit negotiations and to bring some order where there is chaos.”

Ministers are seeking to overturn all but one of the 15 Lords amendments to the Brexit bill in a series of Commons votes on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Tory whips are turning up the heat on potential pro-EU rebels to ensure they have the numbers to win a knife-edge victory.

In an unlikely alliance, senior Tory Remain and Leave MPs urged rebels to back the prime minister on the bill.

Labour is also riven with splits over its Brexit approach, as some pro-Leave MPs will vote with the government, while others may rebel against their own party’s amendment to back EEA membership.

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