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Keir Starmer: Labour can change course of Brexit after May’s election rejection | Politics | The Guardian

theguardian.com – Keir Starmer: Labour can change course of Brexit after May’s election rejection.

Shadow Brexit secretary says there is now a majority for a new approach and Theresa May must ditch ‘extreme Brexit–  and

Labour will work with MPs from across the House of Commons to force Theresa May to change course on Brexit after last week’s general election wiped out her majority, Keir Starmer, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary says.

May is in talks about forming a government with the backing of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party. But Starmer told the Guardian the general election result left her without a mandate for what he called the “extreme Brexit” set out in the government white paper earlier this year.

“I think there’s a majority in the House of Commons for a progressive partnership with the EU, and there’s not a majority for extreme Brexit,” he said. “I would like to see the prime minister accept that her version of extreme Brexit has been rejected, and publish different negotiating objectives, around which there could be a national consensus.”

Starmer has written to the Brexit secretary, David Davis, setting out four demands on the government if Labour is to back the legislation that will be necessary to make Brexit work.

May set out her priorities for the negotiations in a speech at Lancaster House in January, and a subsequent white paper published after pressure from Labour and her own backbenchers. She made controlling immigration and leaving the jurisdiction of the European court of justice priorities; and said Britain would leave the single market, and most aspects of the customs union, and instead seek a free trade deal.

Some cabinet ministers have been pressing for a different approach, with the economy, rather than immigration, the top priority, in the wake of the election result.

Starmer said: “She’s got to ditch that white paper. She’s got to take a different tone and approach; be much clearer about the single market and the customs union; she’s got to be clear that no deal is not viable; and she’s got to be clear about how she’s going to allow parliament to have a much greater role in scrutiny of that as you go through the process.”

He said businesses had told him repeatedly as he visited marginal constituencies during the election campaign that they were particularly concerned about the risk the UK could walk away from the negotiations without a deal – something May and Davis have stressed is a possibility.

“She’s got to drop the idea that no deal is a viable option. No deal means not just no deal on trade, but it means you have not reached an agreement about anything,” he said, pointing to potential difficulties with the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; with regulations governing air travel into and out of the EU; and with customs checks.

Before the general election, Davis set out the complex list of proposed laws that would need to be passed to make Brexit work – including a “great repeal bill”, to bring EU law onto the UK statute book; and new domestic legislation on issues including immigration and farm subsidies, to replace EU processes.

Starmer said as the government seeks to pass these Brexit bills, Labour would collaborate with backbenchers from all parties and try to defeat hard Brexit, vote by vote – “through the scrutiny, through the voting procedures”.

“I think there are a number of Conservatives who clearly share the view that extreme Brexit was the wrong approach. Before the election, they held those views but didn’t necessarily vote according to them, but now I think they’ll feel emboldened to do so,” he said. “I know from my discussions with very many Tory MPs that they did not think that extreme Brexit was the right way forward.”

However, he rejected the idea, put forward by senior Conservatives including former leader William Hague, and some Labour backbenchers, of a cross-party committee to thrash out an agreed approach to the negotiations, which are due to start in Brussels next week.

“The notion that’s been floated of some kind of taskforce or commission is pretty unconvincing, because in the end, any taskforce or commission has got to report to somebody, and in our political system it’s difficult to see that could be anybody other than the prime minister,” he said.

Starmer came under intense pressure this year when Labour decided to back the government’s legislation triggering article 50, the formal process for leaving the European Union.

When Jeremy Corbyn imposed a three-line whip on his MPs to back the Conservatives, several shadow cabinet members resigned, and scores of MPs rebelled.

But Starmer said that decision helped Labour to unite voters across the referendum divide – and tempt former Ukip voters to throw their weight behind Corbyn. “The fact that we accepted the referendum certainly took that off the table as a reason for Leave voters to go to the Tories, or not come back to Labour”.

At the time, he said, “I was being reminded by anybody who saw fit to do so that the strategy we were adopting was a strategy that neither appealed to the 52% nor the 48%, and Labour would be the party of the 0% — and I’ve got scars on my back from the number of discussions about that.”

But he believes last week’s result showed it was the right call. “Even if I say so myself I do feel vindicated: and it wasn’t just a clever lawyer’s answer; it was politically astute,” he said.

When it comes to the final deal the UK could strike with the rest of the EU, Starmer refused to be drawn on whether there is a particular model he favours – repeatedly insisting “function, rather than form” is important.

But he said the prime minister had been wrong to take continued membership of the customs union and the single market off the table before the potential price for continuing to enjoy their benefits had been made clear.

“What I’ve said is that one of the mistakes that the government is making is in taking such an extreme approach, which is to take every option off the table before you’ve even started. The customs union is a classic example of that. That ought to be left on the table as an option when you begin the negotiations.”

The Labour surge at last week’s poll saw Starmer take an extraordinary 70% of the vote in his Holborn and St Pancras constituency, and he said Labour was now in a good position to win the next general election, whenever it is held.

“Theresa May has said she got us into a mess. She’s right. But it’s not just a mess within her own party, it’s a mess across the country and it’s now a mess in Europe. That’s why there’s only one party that’s living in fear of a snap election, and that’s the Tory party, it’s not Labour – because it’s such a mess.”

Sorgente: Keir Starmer: Labour can change course of Brexit after May’s election rejection | Politics | The Guardian

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