Labour moves to prevent ‘no-deal’ Brexit as Blair seeks EU vote

LONDON • The UK Labour Party said it is seeking an amendment to key Brexit legislation to prevent Britain leaving the European Union (EU) without a deal, as former Prime Minister (PM) Tony Blair renewed his own call for a second referendum.

“If Parliament rejects the PM’s deal, that cannot give licence to her, or the extreme Brexiteers in her party, to allow the UK to crash out without an agreement,” Labour’s Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer (picture), said in a speech yesterday, according to extracts emailed by his party. “That would be the worst of all possible worlds.”

As Starmer plots to bind PM Theresa May’s Conservative government to negotiating a smooth exit from the EU, former Labour leader Blair said 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 PM’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 PM’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 PM 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 PM said, 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.”

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. — Bloomberg