Keir Starmer has hit out at Boris Johnson for using the latest Brexit argument as a distraction and has urged him to get back to focusing on the pandemic.
The Labour leader has urged Boris Johnson not to ‘reopen old wounds’ and to get a trade deal with the EU.
He called on Johnson to return his attention to domestic issues by ensuring negotiations with Brussels are successful.
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During a series of broadcast interviews, Sir Keir told Sky News: ‘What the government is proposing is wrong, I think that’s plain for everybody to see. But we need to step back here and focus on getting a deal.
‘There’s certainly a case to be made that this is all just being used as leverage in the negotiations and that’s wrong in principle.
‘Getting a deal is in the national interest, that’s what the public want, that’s what they were promised. The outstanding issues are not difficult, they can be resolved.
‘A deal can be struck in the next few weeks, the issues outstanding are not unsurmountable. To have no deal would be a failure of negotiation, a failure that has to be owned by the prime minister.’
Starmer ruled out working with Tory MPs unhappy with the proposal to block the move, saying the focus must be ensuring Johnson does the right thing.
He said: ‘I’ve not been talking cross-party on this issue because I’m very focused on the national interest which is getting a deal.’
Starmer also warned that the government’s test and trace system is ‘on the verge of collapse’.
‘What we’re now seeing is stories over the past few days that is showing the testing regime is on the verge of collapse,’ he told the BBC.
‘Heartbreaking stories from people who need a test being told no tests are available.
‘Or the website is crashing, or people are being told to go miles and miles for a test.
‘Nobody can argue that that is good governance.’
He continued to support the principles of the government’s pandemic approach, saying he did not want to ‘undermine’ messaging during the pandemic, but he criticised the messaging as ‘confused’.
‘We’re seeing this increase in infection rate, that’s the time the testing regime needs to work and it’s not working and the Prime Minister needs to take responsibility’.
Pro-EU group Best for Britain CEO Naomi Smith welcomed his comments.
‘Starmer’s call to look to the future is a welcome one, and he is right to highlight just how much a distraction the prolonged EU-UK talks have been from the battle with Covid-19.
‘A comprehensive trade deal with the EU should not be seen as an end in itself but, rather, the start of an ambitious new relationship between Britain and its Continental neighbours.
‘Starmer is correct to point out that Johnson promised a deal, and he will bear a heavy personal responsibility if Britain and the EU don’t go into 2021 on a solid trade footing, because every one of us in this country will be impacted by that, from our health to our wealth.’