Britain’s opposition Labour Party will on Monday demand that parliament has the final say on the government’s Brexit deal, including an option to send ministers back to the negotiating table rather than leave without an exit agreement. After reaching a deal last week on a transitional period lasting until the end of 2020, Prime Minister Theresa May’s team must now set about negotiating Britain’s long-term trading arrangements with the European Union – perhaps the hardest stage yet in the complicated divorce talks.
The government has promised to put that final deal to parliament for approval, but has made clear the choice is either to accept the exit agreement, or leave without a deal. On Monday, Labour’s Brexit policy chief Keir Starmer will call for a different approach. “If parliament rejects the prime minister’s deal, that cannot give licence to her – or the extreme Brexiteers in her party – to allow the UK to crash out without an agreement. That would be the worst of all possible worlds,” he will say in a speech in Birmingham.
In a separate speech, former Labour prime minister Tony Blair, whose centrist views are at odds with the current left-wing leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, will call on parliament to go a step further and call a referendum on whether to accept the deal. A so-called ‘No Deal’ exit would be likely to cause upheaval on financial markets, throw cross-border trade into confusion, and spark a political crisis in the world’s sixth largest economy. Labour will seek to give parliament more options — including a return to Brussels for fresh talks — by amending the legislation that will formally end Britain’s EU membership on March 29, 2019.
“Our amendment would make it clear that, should the prime minister’s deal be defeated, it must be for parliament to say what happens next, not the executive,” Starmer will say according to advance extracts of his speech. The government argues that leaving open the possibility of more talks means that EU negotiators won’t give Britain the best deal possible during the current negotiations. Any decision for more talks would also endanger an already tight exit timetable.
The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill has severely tested May’s ability to rule the country with only a wafer thin majority in parliament. In December she was defeated when 11 members of her party rebelled on a similar issue relating to the promise of a ‘meaningful vote’ of the final deal. Labour has its own internal divisions on Brexit. These were exposed on Friday when Corbyn sacked his shadow Northern Ireland minister after he called for a second referendum on Brexit.
Blair, speaking in a lecture organised by parliament’s speaker, will argue that the government will fudge the terms of its final deal to ensure Britain actually leaves the bloc. “Basically, we will have to take what we are given. By the end of 2020, the transition will end. The cliff edge will beckon. We can navigate a harder or easier descent; but retreat will be impossible,” he will say. Blair has made several interventions seeking to build support for reversing Brexit, calling it a folly that would be regretted for generations to come.
“Only parliament can change the direction of this process. Only parliament can give back to the people the final ‘say’ on the terms the government negotiate,” he will say.