Brexit: Referendum should be included in Withdrawal Agreement Bill, Labour says

PM ‘could seek to break the impasse by putting a confirmatory vote on the face of the bill’ says Keir Starmer

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Saturday 18 May 2019 15:40
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Theresa May has been urged to include a confirmatory referendum on the face of a critical Brexit bill in an attempt to break the Commons logjam.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer made the plea as cross-party talks between Labour and the government collapsed on Friday without an agreement, with both sides engaging in bitter recriminations about where to place blame.

The prime minister is now expected to plough ahead with a vote on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill in the first week of June, in what could be her last major move as prime minister.

But without Labour’s support, and a hardline faction of her own MPs opposed to her plans, many in Westminster believe the bill is heading for a crushing rejection in two weeks’ time.

Speaking on Saturday, the shadow Brexit secretary – a key figure in the cross-party talks with the government – also claimed the prime minister had gone sour on the prospect of “indicative votes” on different Brexit options.

“They could seek to break the impasse by putting a confirmatory vote on the face of the bill,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “Whatever happens, they have to find a way of breaking the impasse.” He continued: “What we can’t do is just keep on buying another week at a time, which is what the prime minister has been doing for months.”

Echoing Mr Corbyn’s remarks on Friday, the shadow Brexit secretary claimed efforts to find a positive resolution in the cross-party talks had been scuppered by government ministers not involved in the negotiations and manoeuvring for the keys to Downing Street.

“The prime minister said before we started the talks she would be going,” he said. “It did mean that during the talks, almost literally as we were sitting in the room talking, cabinet members and wannabe Tory leaders were torpedoing the talks with remarks about not willing to accept a customs union.”

But Sir Keir’s comments came as Ms May blamed Labour’s own divisions over whether to demand a fresh Brexit referendum for the collapse in cross-party talks, as government sources placed blame on the pro-referendum shadow Brexit secretary.

Launching the Conservative’s European election campaign – days before the public heads to the polls – Ms May said: “In particular, we haven’t been able to overcome the fact that there isn’t a common position in Labour about whether they want to deliver Brexit or hold a second referendum which could reverse it.”

And the Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay also pinned the blame on Labour over the party’s internal fighting over a fresh public vote. But he said this week that if the Withdrawal Agreement Bill is defeated, the deal thrashed out with the EU would be “dead” and the UK would be left with the options of no deal or no Brexit on 31 October.

Speaking during a visit to a cement works on the border with Ireland in Derrylin, County Fermanagh, Mr Barclay acknowledged the disruption a no-deal scenario would cause but said it was better than cancelling Brexit. “I think both options are undesirable but I think on no deal we would have to do all we can to mitigate the disruption – there would be disruption, and I have always been quite candid about that, which is why I think a deal is what we should be backing.”

But revoking Article 50 and “the biggest vote in our history” would cause damage to democracy, while another referendum would mean a further year of uncertainty for business. “The damage if we were to go back on our vote would be huge,” he said.

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