POLITICS
25/03/2018 22:31 BST

Parliament Should Take Control Of Brexit If MPs Reject May's Deal - Labour

Sir Keir Starmer will table amendment with power to block no-deal Brexit.

Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer wants power to be handed back to Parliament should MPs reject the deal 

Labour will launch a bid to block the Government from ripping the UK out of Europe without a deal should MPs reject Theresa May’s Brexit deal. 

Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer will table an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill that will ensure ministers cannot force the UK to accept a no-deal exit from the bloc. 

Now, the Opposition is aiming to rewrite the Government’s Brexit legislation  by building a coalition of peers and MPs that will reject May’s “take it or leave it” approach. 

Starmer will table an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill that would see MPs instruct the Government on what to do next should Parliament reject May’s deal.  

Brexit minister Lord Callanan revealed in the House of Lords last week that should MPs vote down the PM’s deal, the Government will take it as a direction to press ahead regardless. 

In a speech in Birmingham to mark the one-year countdown to Brexit, Starmer will say Labour’s approach will “bring back control”. 

His words will be delivered on the same day Tony Blair makes his own pro-EU intervention. The former Labour PM will call May’s Brexit strategy “dangerously irresponsible” and step up his calls for a referendum on the deal she strikes with the EU.

Starmer will say: “The Government’s own Brexit minister Lord Callanan said just last week that if the deal is voted down it would be ‘an instruction to move ahead without a deal’. That is totally unacceptable. 

“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. 

“That is why in the coming days – and working with others in the Lords and the Commons – Labour will ensure that an amendment is tabled to the EU Withdrawal Bill to strengthen the terms of Parliament’s meaningful vote. 

Lord Callanan in the House of Lords
Brexit Minister Lord Callanan, in the House of Lords

“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.

“A statutory provision requiring the Government to proceed on terms agreed by Parliament, not on the terms dictated by the Prime Minister. 

“We will not dictate what Parliament should do in such circumstances. But Labour’s preference in that scenario is clear: the Government should go back to the negotiating table and work towards securing a deal that works for Britain.

“This would provide a safety valve in the Brexit process to safeguard jobs and the economy. It would remove the possibility of a no vote leading to a no deal. It would bring back control to Parliament.”

In response, a Conservative spokesperson said: “’Parliament, including the Labour Party front bench, voted overwhelmingly to trigger Article 50 and did so in the knowledge that there would be a meaningful vote in both Houses.”

“Once again, this is just Labour seeking to frustrate the Brexit process, coming as they refuse to rule out a second referendum.”

PA Wire/PA Images
Owen Smith has been sacked by Jeremy Corbyn as Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary after saying he backed a second referendum on Brexit 

It comes as Labour’s Brexit policy was under fresh scrutiny after Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Smith was sacked for publicly saying Labour should back a second referendum. 

Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson said on Sunday that Smith’s views were not Labour policy. He failed to categorically rule out backing a fresh poll, however, leading to speculation Labour could switch position. 

However, Starmer will say: “Labour’s preference in that scenario is clear: the Government should go back to the negotiating table and work towards securing a deal that works for Britain.”

“This would provide a safety valve in the Brexit process to safeguard jobs and the economy.

“It would remove the possibility of a no vote leading to a no deal.

“It would bring back control to Parliament.”

Lucy Nicholson / Reuters
Ex-PM Tony Blair says Theresa May is trying to avoid giving the full details of her Brexit strategy to the public until it's too late to change course 

Blair, who now runs the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change think tank, meanwhile, will make his pro-EU speech in Westminster, arguing that May is trying to avoid spelling out the detail of her plans until “we are irreversibly out of Europe”.

Parliament has the chance to “change the direction of the process” by legislating for another referendum on the Brexit deal, Blair is expected to say.  

“People say that there will be disillusion if Brexit doesn’t happen. Personally, I doubt this if it is the result of a fresh ‘say’ on the final deal,” an excerpt from his speech reads. 

“But even if true, the bigger disillusion will be when those who voted for Brexit because they feared the future shaped by free market globalisation, realise they are now conscripts in an adventure to embrace it more fully.

“This is the awesome responsibility which now rests with Parliament.”

Blair will say the Government’s approach so far has been based on trying to satisfy both wings of the Conservative Party and bids to “fudge” thorny issues such as the Northern Ireland border. 

Ministers will hope that the terms of the new relationship are “sufficiently vague to let the fiction of ‘cakeism’ continue”.

“It is this strategy that Parliament has a duty to foil,” Blair will say. 

The ex-premier will argue that the Government should spell out the choice facing the country - either a close relationship with the EU which would risk failing to fulfil the “central Brexit promise” of control over laws or divergence from Brussels which could disrupt trade and damage the economy.

“The sensible strategic course for the Tories is to share the responsibility,” he will say.

“Resolve the dilemma before March 2019. Put the proposition to Parliament.

“If it succeeds, then no one can say we voted in Parliament in ignorance. Even better let the MPs have a free vote.

“Then let the people make the final judgment.”