Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer has warned Theresa May’s Tory government that the UK will not leave the EU on March 29, accusing them of “pushing parliament away,” during the first day of debate on the PM’s deal.
May called off a vote on her deal in December after admitting that it “would be rejected by a significant margin” if MPs voted on it. She claimed that having listened to concerns from MPs, she would seek the necessary changes in order to get her Brexit plan through Parliament.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, opening up the debate, laid out concessions being put forward by the government to address the issue of the backstop. Crucially though, he gave no legal assurances, a prerequisite for the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and many Tory hardline brexiteers.
Barclay told MPs that voting for May’s deal would instruct the government to obtain further assurances from the EU that the Irish backstop “would only be a temporary arrangement.” He also stated that MPs would have to approve any decision to implement the backstop.
Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer, responding for the Labour Party, dismissed Barclay’s list of so-called concessions, saying MPs were resuming the debate without the government having secured any meaningful changes.
He also argued that Theresa May is struggling badly to get a deal agreed because “the Prime Minister and the government have pushed parliament away” to secure any form of consensus. Starmer suggested that the UK would not leave the EU on March 29 – the official departure date.
Extraordinary to hear @Keir_Starmer point out how nobody in govt has tried to talk to him about Brexit. He thought somebody might give him a ring to see what they could broadly agree on – but nothing.
— Krishnan Guru-Murthy (@krishgm) January 9, 2019
.@Keir_Starmer says he does not believe UK will leave EU on scheduled date of 29 March – and that he and Labour will enter into cross-party talks with an open mind on what comes next, if PM loses vote on her deal next week
— Robert Peston (@Peston) January 9, 2019
Earlier in the day, an amendment, tabled by pro-remain Tory backbencher Dominic Grieve, which would give the Prime Minister three days to come up with a ‘plan B’ if she loses her Brexit deal vote next week, was voted through by MPs – meaning defeat for May’s government. The government lost by 11 votes, 308 to 297.
The sticking point to the current Brexit deal on offer to UK MPs is the Irish backstop. Certain parliamentarians fear the backstop could trap the UK under EU customs rules, requiring checks to be made on goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, if there is no agreement to safeguard the Irish border by December 2020.
During PMQs on Wednesday, May confirmed for the first time that MPs will get a vote on whether to enact the controversial backstop. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn responded by insisting MPs would not accept “window dressing,” adding: “They want to see clear legal changes to the document.” He urged May to call a General Election if her deal gets voted down.
It comes as J.P. Morgan Asset Management suggests that British sterling will rise by at least 4 percent if MPs approve the PM’s Brexit deal, Reuters reports.
EU chiefs have agreed to provide extra assurances but not remove the backstop.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has insisted they do not want to bind the UK to EU rules, adding: “we want to get on to the talks about the future relationship right away. I think it’s those kind of assurances we are happy to give.”
The Independent reports that Theresa May and the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, are expected to speak on the phone later this week to discuss the state of play.
The EU has ruled out even meeting with UK Brexit negotiators to talk about any changes to the agreement. “There won’t be any meeting as such, because negotiations have been completed,” a spokesperson for the EU told reporters in Brussels on Monday.
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