Labour come out fighting ahead of Brexit bill debate

PUBLISHED: 11:48 03 September 2017 | UPDATED: 11:48 03 September 2017

Sir Keir Starmer has warned Theresa May the Brexit bill faces amednments from Labour

Sir Keir Starmer has warned Theresa May the Brexit bill faces amednments from Labour

PA Wire/PA Images

Labour's Brexit chief has sent a stark warning to the Government saying "we are not giving you a blank cheque" on how Britain leaves the European Union.

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Sir Keir Starmer warned Theresa May she faces a parliamentary battle in the first Commons vote on Brexit legislation if issues raised by Labour are ignored.

The Shadow Brexit Secretary said his party would vote to stop handing ministers a “blank cheque to pass powers” if changes were not made to the Government’s proposals.

Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show, Sir Keir said the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – which will be debated for the first time on Thursday after MPs return to Westminster following a summer break – gave ministers “very wide powers”.

Asked if his party would definitely vote against the Bill if Brexit Secretary David Davis does not accept his points, he said: “We have said that, I flagged these points up at the beginning of summer and said if you don’t address them we will be voting against it.

“Now we haven’t reached that stage yet but I have been very, very clear - whilst we accept the result of the referendum we are not giving a blank cheque to the Government to do it in whichever way it wants because it is not in the public interest.”

Sir Keir said Britain could attempt to be in “a customs union”, but said it could not be in the customs union as a non-EU member.

His comments are at odds with Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson who said last week that the country could permanently remain part of the single market and customs union after Brexit, stating that membership of both “might be a permanent outcome of the negotiations”.

But Sir Keir said Labour wanted a “partnership” with the bloc that “retains the benefits of the single market and the customs union”.

“We are open to a discussion that leaves a customs union with the EU on the table as a viable option.

“We haven’t swept that off the table - a customs union with the EU and a changed relationship with the single market, because if you want to retain the benefits you have got to be open to that discussion - we are not sweeping it off the table.

“We could attempt to have an arrangement which delivered the benefits of the customs union that we now have through a customs union and that is something which we think should be a viable end goal.”

The Liberal Democrats also called on eurosceptic MPs to back amendments to the EU withdrawal Bill.

Tom Brake, the party’s Brexit spokesman, has written to 21 pro-Brexit MPs who last year called for parliamentary sovereignty to be prioritised in the negotiations, warning them it would be hypocritical not to back the proposed changes.

He said: “For years Brexiteers have told us how much they care about parliamentary sovereignty. Now is their chance to prove it.

“As it stands, this Bill would drive a coach and horses through parliamentary sovereignty, giving the government sweeping powers to rewrite whole swathes of British law.”

He said MPs from all parties “must resist this unprecedented power grab”, adding: “We may disagree on Europe, but surely eurosceptics can agree that giving such draconian powers to the executive would be deeply damaging to British democracy.”

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