Keir Starmer MP: Labour will protect Britain from a 'no deal' Brexit
Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer confronts the Government over stalled Brexit negotiations, calling ministers 'too weak and divided' to get a good deal for Britain.
Just over a year ago David Davis and Liam Fox assured us that the Brexit talks would be easy and straightforward. They were wrong. Very wrong. And now we are reaching the stage in the Brexit negotiations where fantasy meets reality.
Last Thursday, the EU's negotiator said there had been insufficient progress in the latest round of talks, including a 'disturbing deadlock' over the divorce bill.
It is now inevitable that the EU Council this week will decide that insufficient progress has been made and the target to begin discussions about future trade arrangements will be missed. That is bad for Britain and it is bad for the EU. There is now an increasing prospect that we will not reach a deal with the EU before the Article 50 deadline, and that is a very real cause for concern.
Let's be clear what this would mean. No deal means the return of a hard border in Northern Ireland. No deal means no agreement on how we trade with Europe. No deal means EU nationals working in our schools and hospitals and the 1.2 million UK citizens living in the EU will continue to be unsure about their future. No deal means no deal on aviation, which quite literally means planes cannot take off and land. This is not scaremongering, it’s the grim reality. Anybody doubting that should read the Chancellor’s evidence to the Treasury Select Committee last week.
Those who talk casually of no deal being acceptable are not furthering the national interest - they are actively working against it. No deal cannot and should not be seen as a viable end goal of these negotiations. Something has to be done.
While it is the job of Labour as the Official Opposition to challenge the government on its failures and the risks it is taking with the future of our country, it gives us no pleasure to see these talks deadlocked.
It is in all our interests that the Brexit negotiations succeed and that a deal is reached which is capable of safeguarding not only our economic interest in trading with our European partners, but also wider co-operative and collaboration over very many other fields.
The unpalatable truth is that our government is now too weak and divided to negotiate what is best for Britain. Self-interest around the cabinet table now trumps the national interest.
In such circumstances, it is not only appropriate, but necessary for Labour to step in and seek to determine the approach that should be taken. We did so in the summer, when I set out Labour’s approach to seek a time-limited transitional arrangement that would see Britain remain in a customs union with the EU and within the Single Market for this period. Now Labour needs to step in again.
That is why we have tabled amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill, designed to protect Britain from a no deal scenario and ensure that the UK can agree sensible, appropriate and workable transitional arrangements with the EU sooner rather than later.
Virtually all the businesses and trade unions I have spoken to are very clear that we cannot allow ourselves simply to crash out without a deal in March 2019. We need transitional arrangements on the terms I set out over the summer. Those I speak to are equally clear that the longer it takes to get the arrangements agreed, the less their utility because contingency plans will take over and become self-fulfilling.
If Theresa May cannot act in the national interest, then Labour will. We will always put jobs and the economy first and seek to protect Britain from those whose priorities only serve themselves.
Keir Starmer is Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union