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Labour in Brexit U-turn as Keir Starmer admits ‘any deal’ would need Irish backstop

Labour in Brexit U-turn as Keir Starmer admits ‘any deal’ would need Irish backstop
4 min read

Keir Starmer has admitted that any Brexit deal negotiated with the European Union would need an Irish backstop mechanism, despite Jeremy Corbyn having previously ruled it out.

The Shadow Brexit Secretary said the chances of striking an agreement without the controversial proposal to keep the border with Northern Ireland open in the event of a no-deal Brexit were “very, very slim”. 

The arrangement, which has proved a major sticking point in Theresa May's attempts to sell her deal to MPs, would leave the UK tied to a customs union with the EU if both sides failed to reach an alternative agreement by the end of the transition period in December 2020.

Critics argue the backstop could leave the UK bound to EU rules forever and would create a regulatory border down the Irish Sea.

In December, Labour leader Mr Corbyn told Euronews that under his own plans for Brexit “there certainly wouldn’t be a backstop from which you can’t escape”.

He said the DUP - which props up the minority Tory government and has refused to back the deal if it contains the backstop - were protesting against it "for very good and very sensible reasons”.

But Mr Starmer told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show today: “I think at this stage, any deal probably does require a backstop and we’ve got to recognise that.

“There are problems with this backstop, there are risks with it that are real, but I think because we’re at this stage of the exercise, nearly two years in, the chances of a deal which doesn’t have a backstop are very, very slim and we have to accept that and proceed from there.”

He also suggested Labour could be willing to soften its six tests on the Brexit deal Theresa May tries to push through - although he said if she refused to compromise a second EU referendum would become more likely.

A Labour spokesman said: “The only reason a backstop may become necessary is because of the shambles this government has made of the Brexit negotiations. 

“Labour rejects Theresa May’s red lines, which have created this backstop, and we would therefore not fall into it. We would negotiate a deal with a new comprehensive customs union with the EU, a strong single market relationship and guarantees on rights and protections.”

The comments by the Shadow Brexit Secretary appeared to be part of a wider relaxing of Labour opposition to the Brexit deal. 

Shadow Communitites Secretary Andrew Gwynne dropped a big hint that Labour would discuss Brexit with Mrs May even if she refuses to rule out a no-deal departure - which it said was a condition for talks this week.

"In terms of opening the door to meaningful negotiations with us, all she's got to do is give us a verbal commitment that she will do everything possible to prevent a no deal," he told the BBC.


It came as pro-Remain Labour MP David Lammy ramped up pressure on the frontbench to demand another vote, insisting that Mr Corbyn must call for one to be in line with party policy.

Labour delegates voted last autumn to try and instigate a general election in the hope the party could take over Brexit negotiations, but to keep the option of a second referendum open if the election bid failed.

The Tottenham MP said Mr Corbyn appeared to be “moving the goal posts,” after the vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister this week was unsuccessful.

“I think we have an open goal here and I would like the Labour party to go through the door and score the goal," he told Sky News.

“The only way of doing that it seems to me is to get us into a place where we are preparing for that final say referendum that has to take place."

But in the latest sign of splits within the Labour ranks, Don Valley MP Caroline Flint, who last week supported Mrs May’s deal, said staying in the EU should be ruled out as an option.

“We had a referendum, people had their say, they wanted to get a deal and actually we should be saying, get no deal off the table, but get remain off the table as well, so we can focus our minds on what is to be done,” she told BBC 5Live’s Pienaar’s Politics.

“There’s too much shenanigans, too much process, not enough substance going on among politicians.”

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