Keir Starmer says it would be 'impossible' for Labour MPs to back Brexit deal without second referendum

Posted On: 
13th May 2019

Up to 150 Labour MPs will reject any Brexit deal thrashed out between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn if it does not include plans for a second referendum, Sir Keir Starmer has said.

Sir Keir (left) gave a gloomy assessment of talks between Labour and the Government.

Ahead of a fresh round of talks between Labour and the Government on Monday, the Shadow Brexit Secretary said it was "impossible" to see how an agreement between the two sides could get through Parliament without the promise of a fresh public vote.

"A significant number of Labour MPs, probably 120 if not 150, would not back a deal if it hasn’t got a confirmatory vote," Sir Keir told The Guardian.

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He added: "If the point of the exercise is to get a sustainable majority, over several weeks or months of delivering on the implementation, you can’t leave a confirmatory vote out of the package."

Ministers have held several rounds of Brexit talks with Labour frontbenchers since early April in a bid to find an agreement that can command a majority in the House of Commons.

The discussions followed three heavy defeats for Theresa May's own deal.

But, in a gloomy assessment of the state of the talks, Sir Keir said it would be "very difficult" to find the Parliamentary numbers for any agreement.

And the Labour frontbencher made clear that he could only sign up to a pact that was "truly deliverable".

"For many of my colleagues, they have made it clear that they will not vote for a deal without a confirmatory vote attached to it," he said.

"So if you want that stable majority, that has to be taken into account. And without it, it is impossible to see how the numbers would stack up."

Theresa May has repeatedly spoken out against another public vote, while Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom last week said a second referendum would represent "the ultimate betrayal" of the decision made by voters in 2016.

Sir Keir's comments also pile pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to soften his stance on a second referendum, which he has said he would only support to prevent a "Tory Brexit" or no-deal departure from the EU.

The two sides are also at odds over Labour's demand that the Prime Minister shelves her longstanding opposition to joining a customs union with the EU - a move Conservative MPs fear would kill off any hopes of Britain striking independent trade deals after Brexit.

Sir Keir said: "Is the Government actually prepared to change its red lines? The answer is, so far, not really... On substance, there is a considerable distance between us."

The intervention came as it was reported that key Cabinet ministers want the Prime Minister to shelve the talks in favour of a fresh round of Commons votes on the different Brexit options.

According to The Times, Chancellor Philip Hammond told colleagues that the "amiable" talks are being held on a "false premise", with no realistic deal in sight.

Meanwhile fellow Cabinet ministers Amber Rudd, David Gauke and Greg Clark are said to want Mrs May to instead move to a fresh round of indicative votes.

"If we can’t do a deal with Labour we need to throw our weight behind indicative votes,” a government source told the paper.