Tory MPs are in talks with Labour to vote down the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has hinted.
Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, Jeremy Corbyn’s closest ally claimed Theresa May does not have a majority in the House of Commons for leading the UK out of the bloc with no deal and his party “not willing to countenance” that outcome.
He added amendments to Brexit legislation that would guarantee in law a “meaningful vote” on the outcome of talks would secure a Commons majority.
EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier hit out at a “disturbing” lack of progress in negotiations so far, with trade talks unable to open as no agreement has yet been reached on the so-called divorce bill.
The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is absent from the Commons schedule for the week ahead, with ministers claiming MPs want to closely evaluate some 300 amendments and more than 50 new clauses proposed.
McDonnell said: “I don’t think there’s a majority for no deal. I think on a cross-party basis you’ll see in the debates in the coming week - the Government will get the message, there will be a deal.”
Asked if the Commons could stop the Government over no deal, he added: “I don’t believe there’s a majority in the House of Commons for a no deal and I think the Government needs to recognise that.”
He went on: “When we amend the legislation, which I think we will, I think there’s a majority to do that, to have a meaningful vote.
“That’s what we’ve said all the way along. We’ll be able to say to Government whatever you’re negotiating, it’ll not be on the basis of no deal because the damage to this economy will be so great.”
McDonnell claimed the Tories are “fighting among themselves” rather than negotiating with the EU.
When told Labour cannot stop this, McDonnell said: “Parliament can. They haven’t got a majority to get through a no deal situation.
“If we amend the legislation for Parliament to have a meaningful vote, it’ll force the Government to negotiate - come to their senses, negotiate properly.”
Asked if this included talks with Tory MPs, Mr McDonnell replied: “There are discussions going right the way across the House.”
Pressed when the vote will be, the Labour MP said: “Shall I tell you why we’re not seeing a vote next week?
“Not because there’s 300 amendments that have been put down - most of them actually their own side - but because they’re now negotiating with their own backbenchers on just how much they can get through.
“They’re more interested in negotiating to save the Conservative Party than they are in the interests of the country.
“That’s why I think actually it’s a disgrace. They should come to their senses, behave responsibly and look after the interests of the country.”
Speaking on the same programme, Chris Grayling said McDonnell was “talking a lot of complete nonsense”.
“Parliament has already voted to leave the European Union,” the Transport Secretary said.
“John McDonnell threatening to derail this bill is John McDonnell threatening to create the kind of chaotic Brexit he himself is warning against.”
He repeatedly insisted “Britain will succeed, come what may” but said it would be bad for the EU if no agreement was struck.
The Government was planning for all eventualities, Grayling added.
He said the negotiations were where he “expected them to be” and insisted no one had believed they would be done in “half an hour”.
“This was always going to be a long and difficult negotiation,” he said.
Grayling was played a clip of a previous interview he gave in which he said he had “no doubt at all” the UK would continue to trade tariff-free with the EU.
“I still agree with myself,” he said.
He dismissed suggestions Chancellor Philip Hammond was sabotaging Brexit and claimed, despite a slew of media reports to the contrary, that the cabinet is united in its approach to Brexit.
Asked outright if Hammond should be sacked, Grayling said: “In a month’s time the Chancellor is going to deliver a very important budget for this country and I’m working with him and we are all behind him in delivering that.”
Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the Brexit divorce bill should be kept “as low as possible” but said Labour would consider making payments to the EU after Brexit to gain access to the customs union.
He told ITV’s Peston on Sunday: “We’ll have to see subject to negotiations. Obviously, ideally no, or keep it low.
“It’s a very simple thing - if economically it’s better off to have an arrangement that works for our businesses and secures our economy then we would do it.”
Starmer said he believed “there may be a role” for the European Court of Justice after Britain quits.
Asked if he would tell the EU no deal is not an option, he said: “It’s not an option for the UK and it’s not an option for the EU.”