Labour to join forces with Tory rebels over Brexit
The shadow Brexit secretary demanded six changes to the “paused” repeal bill, formally known as the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, including Parliament being given final approval of the exit agreement.
Sir Keir said the Government has unexpectedly withheld the legislation from the House of Commons for two weeks running because it fears defeat on at least 13 amendments at the hands of Tory rebels.
He said it was “clear” that ministers cannot proceed with the Bill as it stands and threatened to “work with all sides” to get his changes made - unless ministers adopt them and end the “paralysis”.
The Conservative Party’s disastrous general election has left Mrs May in charge of a minority Government relying on votes from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to get its business through the Commons.
This means a relatively small revolt by Tory MPs could derail the Bill, although ministers will hope that Brexit-backing Labour MPs will help them get it passed.
Writing in the Sunday Times, Sir Keir demanded:
- MPs get the “final say on whether to approve the withdrawal agreement and how best to implement it”.
- The transition period requested by the Prime Minister is added into the legislation.
- A “completely different approach” to the use of so-called Henry VIII powers which the Government argues it needs to make technical changes to regulations repatriated from Brussels, but which Sir Keir described as “silencing Parliament and handing sweeping powers” to ministers.
- A guarantee that workers’ and consumer rights, as well as environmental standards, are not watered down after Brexit.
- A concession to devolved administrations who want repatriated powers which would normally fall under their remit to go straight to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, rather than first being taken over by the Westminster government.
- Putting the EU charter of fundamental rights into UK law.
The shadow Brexit secretary wrote: “I believe there is a consensus in Parliament for these changes. And there is certainly no majority for weakening rights, silencing Parliament and sidelining the devolved administrations.
“There is a way through this paralysis.
“Labour will work with all sides to make that happen.”
Sir Keir’s intervention comes after EU leaders agreed to begin scoping work on trade talks in a move which boosted Mrs May.
But they also made clear Britain must make further concessions on its divorce bill to unlock talks on a future trading relationship.
David Davis will travel to Paris for Brexit talks on Monday after France appeared to emerge as the most hardline EU member state on the exit bill.
French president Emmanuel Macron suggested at this week’s European Council summit the bill could top 40 billion euro (£36 billion), saying earlier indications that the UK could offer around 20 billion euro (£18 billion) to ensure its EU partners were not left out of pocket due to Brexit did not go halfway to what was required.
The Prime Minister repeatedly dodged questions at the Brussels summit over how much the UK is ready to pay, insisting the size of a “full and final settlement” will not emerge until agreement is reached on all aspects of Brexit.
But she did not deny suggestions that it could be “many more billions” than the 20 billion euro indicated in her speech in Florence last month, sparking Brexiteer Tories to renew calls for a “no deal” withdrawal if the cost of an agreement is too high.
The European Parliament’s chief Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt told Mrs May to confront Boris Johnson and other Leavers, offer concessions to the EU, and outline what sort of trade deal the Government wants.
He told the Mail on Sunday: “This may require Theresa May to face down Boris Johnson and others in her own party who refuse to accept the reality of the Brexit they campaigned for ... Brexiteers failed to outline the extent of UK liabilities in Europe.
“Nevertheless, what is clear is that it will not be the taxpayers of the European Union who pay Britain’s bar bill.”
The PM is expected to update MPs on the Council summit in the Commons on Monday and will reaffirm her commitment to three million EU nationals living in the UK who make an “extraordinary contribution”, saying “we want them to stay”.
Mrs May will also call on EU states to recognise the value of British expats and protect their rights as well.
She will say: “The negotiations are complicated and deeply technical but in the end they are about people - and I am determined that we will put people first.”