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Labour’s Keir Starmer says Brexit can be stopped


Shadow Brexit secretary contradicts Corbyn’s recent remarks and reaffirms second referendum option


Keir Starmer

Keir Starmer says given the scale of the Brexit crisis, all options should remain open. Photograph: François Lenoir/Reuters


The UK’s departure from the EU still can be halted, Keir Starmer, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, has insisted, as he contradicted Jeremy Corbyn and reiterated the party’s position of keeping open the option of a second referendum.


Starmer rejected the Labour leader’s view, expressed to a German newspaperon Friday, that the only decisions remaining were on what sort of Brexit to implement. He told Sky News: “Brexit can be stopped – but the real question is what are the decisions we are going to face over the next few weeks and months.”


In the run-up to another crucial week for Theresa May on the Brexit process, the Labour clarification on a second referendum followed the decision of the rail minister, Jo Johnson, to quit the government on Friday, and also back this option.

On Monday, Justine Greening, the former education secretary, condemned a “failure of leadership” by the Conservatives and Labour on Brexit, predicting that the prime minister’s plan had no chance of being passed by parliament.


It remains unclear whether May will put the details of a final Brexit strategy to her cabinet on Tuesday, or wait another week to seek more unity. Citing unnamed ministerial sources, the BBC reported that several cabinet minister had serious doubts about her proposal since it was outlined in July.


Starmer said given the scale of the crisis, and the likelihood of delays scuppering the chances of another emergency EU summit, all options should be kept open. He dismissed the idea of Labour helping May get a deal through parliament.

“The national interest is getting the right deal,” he said. “One has to ask the question: is the prime minister genuinely negotiating in the national interest, or is she negotiating what she thinks she can get past her cabinet? And I think everybody knows the answer to that question.”

In his interview with Der Spiegel, published on Friday, Corbyn had reiterated his criticisms of some EU policies. Asked if he backed the idea of a second referendum, he replied: “Not really, no. The referendum took place.”


On Sunday, Corbyn was contradicted by the shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry. Starmer told Sky a possible second referendum was the agreed party policy. “This was a big issue at our party conference in September, and we had a very strong policy position that was endorsed by everybody – myself, Jeremy, Emily – the whole of the membership,” he said.


He described the possible sequence of events: “We’ll look at the deal and vote it down if it doesn’t meet our tests. If that happens, we will call for a general election. If that doesn’t happen, then all options must remain on the table. That includes the option of a public vote.”


Asked about the issue later on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Starmer said: “Neither Jeremy nor anybody else has altered that position, and that is the position of the Labour party. I’m not going to pretend there aren’t different views in the Labour party. That wouldn’t be real. But that’s why we worked so hard to say what is the common ground, what is it that we, as the Labour party, can all agree on for the way forward.”


Starmer said even if MPs were presented with an official option of accepting May’s plan or leaving without a deal, parliament would have some leeway: “If there was a motion that 400-plus MPs supported, saying we do not countenance no deal, and a minority countenanced no deal, the PM would then have to go forward in the teeth of parliament.”

In her own party, the prime minister faces intense pressure on both sides of the Brexit divide to change course. The BBC quoted two ministers saying anonymously they did not believe May could win parliament’s backing, with one saying it was “self-harming” for her to endlessly pursue the same plan.


On Friday, Johnson said May’s course offered the the UK the choice of “vassalage or chaos”, and said he would instead back a second referendum.


In his latest column for the Daily Telegraph, reported on the front page, Johnson’s brother, Boris, the former foreign secretary, reiterated his own criticisms of May’s plan, saying the government “seems to be on the verge of total surrender”.


Speaking to BBC1’s Breakfast programme, Greening said she did not believe MPs would back May’s proposals, which she called “the worst of all worlds”.


“No, I don’t think so. I think that was clear back in the summer, that parliament is gridlocked,” she said. “The reality is this deal isn’t about taking back control – you’re actually giving back control, it turns out, and we’ll have a massive loss of sovereignty, less say on the rules that we’ll have to follow, and that’s why people should have the chance to have their say on it.


“It’s likely that, alongside rejecting the prime minister’s deal, parliament will also vote against a no deal. Whether or not that’s a binding vote, I think it will be almost impossible for government to simply ignore. It’s then incumbent on parliament to find a route through.”

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