The Labour Party is willing to vote down the government’s plan for EU withdrawal, its shadow Brexit secretary has said.
Sir Keir Starmer vowed that if prime minister Theresa May and her government fail to meet six tests set out by Labour, then it will vote against any proposed deal.
His comments come as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn sets out his own ‘soft’ Brexit deal, which would involve full access to the EU single market.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday, Sir Keir said Labour is prepared to vote down the government’s Article 50 withdrawal plan.
— BBC Radio 4 Today (@BBCr4today) June 6, 2018
“We set out six tests for Theresa May – we set them out when she invoked Article 50,” he said.
“At the moment, it’s hard to see how the government will satisfy those tests.
“Let me be absolutely crystal clear – if those tests are not met, we will be voting against. And we’re not going to let the government get away with vague non-answers.
“You don’t meet a test by not answering a question. The tests have to be met or we vote against.”
Labour’s tests including checking if the Brexit deal delivers the same benefits for Britain, protects national security and ensures a strong future relationship with the EU.
Meanwhile, Labour will push for a “new single market” deal for the UK after Brexit as the government faces crunch votes in the Commons next week.
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Jeremy Corbyn’s frontbench has tabled amendments to the Brexit Bill which would call on Theresa May to make maintaining “full access” to the EU “internal market” an objective of the negotiations with Brussels.
The move stops just short of calling for the full single market membership sought by a vocal group of Labour MPs after the Lords backed a Norway-style membership of the European Economic Area.
But the measure – which has been tabled as an alternative to the Lords amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – is aimed at delivering the same benefits as single market membership.
Mr Corbyn said: “We are confident we can build a new relationship with the EU. We want the UK to have a better deal than the Norway model.”
It is understood Labour MPs will abstain on the Lords EEA amendment but will be asked to back the party’s call for a “bespoke” deal which would see shared UK-EU institutions and regulations.
Speaking on Wednesday. Sir Keir said Labour has rejected proposals for a Norway-style relationship with the European Union because the party is too divided on the issue.
He ruled out backing measures that would see the UK remain in the European Economic Area (EEA) after Brexit and instead proposed an alternative plan.
Party critics have accused the frontbench of “bailing out” the prime minister from a potential rebellion on the single market.
But Sir Keir said the EEA amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill that will go before MPs on Monday was too divisive in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP).
He told the Today programme: “The difficulty with that, and I think everybody recognises this, is that there are very strong and very different views across the PLP on that particular amendment.
“So, whilst there’s unity on all the others and we will all be voting together, on that amendment there are very divided views.”
Asked if he was putting party unity before his beliefs about what is right for the country, he replied: “I’m injecting some honesty about where we are in the Labour Party.”
Sir Keir said Labour MP Chuka Umunna and other party critics of the approach knew “that this amendment does not command that support in their own party”.
“I wish I could report complete unity on all amendments but we are not in that position.”
Sir Keir said the amendment was “very contentious” and claimed it was a “pretence” that everyone in the party was in the same place on it.
But former shadow chancellor Chris Leslie said: “We should not be in the business of bailing out Theresa May when she’s facing rebellion on the single market.”
Bermondsey and Old Southwark MP Neil Coyle added: “Many of us will be supporting the EEA amendment from Lords. Not any lesser alternative.”
Ex-cabinet minister Ben Bradshaw said Tory MPs would not vote for a Labour frontbench amendment and if the party is “serious” about avoiding a hard Brexit “we must vote for the existing backbench cross-party Lords amendment”.
Chuka Umunna – a supporter of the pro-EU Open Britain campaign – said: “All the way through the passage of this Bill, the only amendments which have commanded support on both sides of the House and passed are cross-party backbench ones.
“So, if we are serious about ‘protecting full access to the internal market of the EU’ and ensuring ‘no new impediments to trade’, logic dictates Labour MPs should be whipped to support the cross-party EEA amendment sent to us by the House of Lords.”
Brexit minister Suella Braverman said: “Labour have shattered their promise to respect the referendum result – this amendment means accepting free movement and continuing to follow EU rules with absolutely no say in them, which is the worst of all worlds.”