View from the House: Stakes ‘too high’ to leave without a deal

Sir Keir Starmer QC. Picture: UK Parliament is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Sir Keir Starmer QC. Picture: UK Parliament is licensed under CC BY 3.0 - Credit: Chris McAndrew / UK Parliament (Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0))

When writing for the Ham&High, I enjoy the opportunity to focus on local issues. This week, however, parliament resumes business after a conference recess in which Brexit took centre stage, and Brexit is set to dominate proceedings for many weeks to come.

So it seems to me important to speak clearly on the matters that concern me as shadow Brexit secretary.

The EU summit next week was supposed to be the date for final agreement of the Article 50 withdrawal agreement between the EU and the UK. But it now looks certain this milestone will be missed.

The reasons are many, but central is the continued deep division at the heart of government about what it actually wants to achieve from Brexit. The more extreme Brexiteers in the Tory party want a complete rupture with the EU, tearing us out of the economic arrangements that form the basic models for both our manufacturing and service sector. Such an approach will cause huge economic harm and threaten the peace process in Northern Ireland.

The prime minister bears much responsibility. The “red lines” she set out for Brexit back in the autumn of 2016 – out of the single market, out of the customs unions, out of all EU agencies, all with no access to the European Court – were wrong in principle and always bound to bedevil the negotiations, which is exactly what has happened. And when the prime minister tried to break free from the straight-jacket she herself put on, her so-called Chequers’ proposals were shot down by her party and the EU.

We now risk the worst of all possible outcomes: no deal. For businesses and communities in Holborn and St Pancras, just as for businesses and communities across the UK, the consequences would be catastrophic. No responsible prime minister would take the UK out of the EU without a deal, and, if Theresa May threatens to, parliament must step in and take control.

That’s why it was important for us at this year’s Labour Party conference to set out what we would do to protect the UK from the harm that these chaotic Brexit negotiations threaten. First, we will subject the prime minister’s Brexit deal to the six tests that we set out at the beginning of the process; tests taken from the promises and commitments the government itself made when it started the Article 50 process. If the deal fails our tests, we will vote it down.

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In such circumstances, we would then demand a general election. After all, if the prime minister cannot get parliament to back her deal, or can’t even reach a deal, then she and her government should not be allowed to remain in office. But if a general election is not possible, other options must be available. And those options must include a public vote, in which “remain” as an option is not ruled out.

Obviously a lot could happen in the next few weeks and we need to be agile, but the stakes are simply too high to countenance the UK leaving the EU without a deal. As ever, I will continue to discuss all these issues locally because everyone in Holborn and St Pancras will be affected by the outcome of events.

As ever, is you want to contact me, I can be found at