Labour Moves to Prevent `No-Deal' Brexit as Blair Seeks EU Vote
(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. Labour Party said it is seeking an amendment to key Brexit legislation to prevent Britain leaving the European Union without a deal, as former premier Tony Blair renewed his own call for a second referendum.
“If Parliament rejects the Prime Minister’s deal, that cannot give licence to her, or the extreme Brexiteers in her party, to allow the U.K. to crash out without an agreement,” Labour’s Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer, will say in a speech on Monday, according to extracts emailed by his party. “That would be the worst of all possible worlds.”
As Starmer plots to bind Theresa May’s Conservative government to negotiating a smooth exit from the European Union, former Labour leader Blair will say that Parliament should get to vote on the planned future relationship with the EU and then the electorate should “make the final judgment” ahead Britain’s scheduled departure from the bloc on March 29 next year.
Starmer’s bid to rewrite the EU Withdrawal Bill throws up a new hurdle to the premier’s plans. While she’s repeatedly said she wants to reach an agreement with the bloc, May maintains that exiting without one is better than accepting a bad deal. A majority of lawmakers in both houses of Parliament oppose a hard Brexit.
“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,” Starmer will say.
Blair, for his part, accuses Prime Minister Theresa May’s government of trying to “fudge” dilemmas and peddling a “fiction” that Britain can have the best of all worlds in an effort to avoid a parliamentary defeat.
“It is this strategy that Parliament has a duty to foil,” the former Labour premier will say, according to extracts released by his office. “It has demanded a ‘meaningful vote.’ The vote is only meaningful if it is on a proposition which allows us to know with precision what our future path looks like before we take it.”
Blair is the highest-profile figure in a growing movement in Britain to stop Brexit, a goal that has exposed divisions in the opposition Labour Party. On Friday, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn fired his Northern Ireland spokesman Owen Smith after he broke ranks to call for a second referendum on the EU.
Britain and the EU this month reached a provisional deal on a post-Brexit transition period, and both sides have signed off on significant parts of the withdrawal treaty. A vote in Parliament on the deal is expected around October. But businesses hoping that the future trading relationship would be clear by now have been left disappointed.
Instead of allowing firms time to adapt to a new regime, it appears a hoped-for 21-month grace period will be used to complete trade talks.
The Brexit hurdles facing May mounted on Sunday when Labour announced it’s pushing for a legal commitment to avoid a hard border with Ireland after Britain leaves the EU.
Starmer on Sunday said Labour wants to enshrine in legislation what is currently only a promise by the government to avoid buildings, customs posts and cameras at the Northern Ireland border. He’s seeking a cross-party alliance for the plan, which is likely to be seen as an attempt to force the government into a soft Brexit.
How to manage the frontier on the island of Ireland remains the most vexing issue in the Brexit negotiations. Labour backs staying in a customs union with the EU, which it says would solve the border issue. May has ruled out such a step, with many Conservative lawmakers demanding that Britain make a clean break with the EU.
Among the most vociferous of the anti-EU Conservatives is Jacob Rees-Mogg. In a speech set for Thursday to mark one year to Brexit day, Rees-Mogg will say that Britain would face its biggest humiliation since the botched attempt to regain control over the Suez Canal in 1956 if it stays permanently tied to the EU after Brexit.
“What would that mean for this nation if we were not to leave, if we were to find a transition bound us back in,” he will say, according to excerpts provided by his office. “Well, it would Suez all over again. It would be the most almighty smash to the national psyche that could be imagined.”
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