Labour’s shadow Brexit Secretary insisted today that a hard Brexit could be stopped – directly contradicting his leader Jeremy Corbyn’s claim that it could not.
Sir Keir Starmer said MPs could “absolutely” act to prevent the UK from crashing out of the EU without a deal after the departure date of March 29 next year.
His leader Jeremy Corbyn had told German newspaper Der Spiegel at the weekend that Brexit could not be stopped.
Corbyn declined to answer when the interviewer asked him: “If you could stop Brexit, would you?”
But he did say: “We can’t stop it. The referendum took place. Article 50 has been triggered. What we can do is recognise the reasons why people voted Leave.”
Sir Keir said that Parliament would act if the UK faced departing from the EU without a negotiated agreement.
The UK and EU are still trying to agree a deal to put before an EU leaders’ summit later this month, but the issue of the Irish border backstop has not been overcome.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said today that negotiations were continuing, as was contingency planning for “every possible scenario.”
The Labour leadership has said it is unlikely to support any agreement Prime Minister Theresa May comes back with.
Their preferred option is for a general election to be called if Parliament rejects any deal and that “all options” should remain open if not, including a second referendum.
Sir Keir admitted there were party divisions over Brexit and particularly a second referendum, but its annual conference had decided it should be kept as an option.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he was confident Parliament would not accept a no-deal Brexit and had the power to stop it.
“If there was a motion that 400-plus MPs supported saying we do not countenance a no-deal, then the prime minister would have to go forward in the teeth of Parliament,” he said.
“I am critical of the prime minister on a number of fronts but I don’t think she would simply take us out of the EU without a deal in the teeth of the vast majority in Parliament.
“She has got a deep sense of duty. She knows the ruptures that would cause, not just on trade, but on security and counter-terrorism. She knows that.”
In response to Corbyn’s claims that Brexit could not be stopped, he said: “The Labour Party has had a healthy discussion.
“But did we reach an agreement? Yes we did. Are we sticking to it? Yes we are. Neither Jeremy nor anyone else has altered that position, that is the position of the Labour Party.”