Labour will try to block Theresa May from imposing a “bad” Brexit deal on Britain, Jeremy Corbyn has warned.
The Labour leader said the party won’t stop the Prime Minister from formally triggering talks with the EU.
But he tried to paper over the cracks in his own party’s divisions on the issue with a vow to seek a “meaningful” vote on the nature of the UK’s exit from the EU.
And Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer has signalled that May should be forced to go back to Brussels to renegotiate the deal if MPs and peers vote it down.
Opposition parties began to squabble in the wake of the Supreme Court verdict that Parliament has to approve the triggering of the Article 50 process that starts the two-year exit talks.
The Liberal Democrats toughened up their pro-EU stance by swiftly demanding a second referendum on the final Brexit deal and vowed their MPs and peers would vote against a Parliamentary bill without one.
And the SNP, which is furious that the Scottish Parliament will not be consulted, also vowed to table 50 amendments to the legislation.
But without Labour support neither move is set to succeed and Corbyn made plain on Tuesday that his party would not do anything to block the formal start of the Brexit talks with the EU.
Corbyn said: “Labour respects the result of the referendum and the will of the British people and will not frustrate the process for invoking Article 50.
“However, Labour will seek to amend the Article 50 Bill to prevent the Conservatives using Brexit to turn Britain into a bargain basement tax haven off the coast of Europe.
“Labour is demanding a plan from the Government to ensure it is accountable to Parliament throughout the negotiations and a meaningful vote to ensure the final deal is given Parliamentary approval.”
HuffPost UK understands that Starmer told Labour MPs privately on Monday night that even once Article 50 has been triggered, Labour should demand a say over the shape of the deal hammered out in Brussels.
“We don’t want to vote at the end of the two-year process on a fait accomplit. We want an early and regular say over the negotiation to make sure Britain gets the best deal, not a bad deal,” one source said.
The party wants time to go back to Brussels and suggest alternative plans before the two-year deadline for Brexit talks runs out.
Chuka Umunna, the Labour MP who leads the ‘Vote Leave Watch’ group, said that May wanted to reveal her final Brexit deal “at the last minute”, risking the UK economy going “off a cliff-edge”.
The party faces a possible rebellion by MPs who represent strongly pro-Remain areas, while many of its northern heartlands voted to Leave.
Starmer, who admitted to the BBC that “this is a difficult set of decisions for colleagues”, confirmed the party would be asked to vote for Article 50.
“We accept and respect the outcome of the referendum. It follows that we don’t seek to block the Prime Minister from starting her negotiation.”
But he added: “We have said all along the terms of the negotiation and the role of Parliament are important.”
“We would want to amend it [the bill] to ensure Parliament does have a meaningful role in the process.”
His colleague, fellow shadow Brexit minister Matthew Pennycook tweeted the party’s amendment topics:
Labour is set to table detailed amendments demanding a clear plan from the Government, plus a pledge to allow Parliament a vote on any Brexit or trade deal agreed with the other 27 EU states.
Crucially, sources say that it is unlikely that Labour will vote against the whole bill if its amendments fail.
Farron, whose party won the Richmond Park by-election on the back of a strong pro-Remain vote, confirmed for the first time that the Liberal Democrats would vote down the Article 50 bill if it lacked provision for a second referendum on the final deal.
“This Tory Brexit government are keen to laud the democratic process when it suits them, but will not give the people a voice over the final deal. They seem happy to start with democracy and end in a stitch up,” he said.
“The Liberal Democrats are clear, we demand a vote of the people on the final deal and without that we will not vote for Article 50.”
Alex Salmond, the SNP’s International Affairs spokesperson, said it would now put forward 50 “serious and substantive” amendments to UK government legislation.
The 50 amendments include: a demand for the Government to publish a White Paper on its Brexit plan and unanimous agreement of devolved administrations.
It also wants an agreement with the European Commission that any failure of the UK Parliament to ratify the final terms of negotiation will result in Britain reverting to current terms of EU membership.