UK’s Labour keeps door open to staying in EU

LIVERPOOL: Britain’s opposition Labour Party is set to vote against any deal Prime Minister Theresa May clinches with the European Union and is open to a second referendum with the option of staying in the bloc, Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said on Tuesday.
With just over six months until Britain leaves the EU, May has yet to reach a deal on the terms of the divorce, and her plan for future trade ties has been rebuffed by both the EU and many lawmakers in her own Conservative Party.
Labour has listed six tests it would apply to any Brexit deal, including whether it ensured a strong future relationship with the EU and delivered the same benefits Britain has as a member of its single market and customs union.
Starmer said May was on course to fail these tests.
He called for an election to allow a Labour government to steer Britain’s departure from the EU, the biggest shift in the country’s foreign and trade policy in decades. “If Theresa May brings back a deal that does not meet our tests — and that looks increasingly likely — Labour will vote against her deal,” he told Labour members at the party’s conference in Liverpool.
He repeated Labour’s argument that if parliament rejected May’s Chequers deal, named after the prime minister’s country residence where she hashed out a plan with her ministers, the party would press for a general election.
The Conservative Party’s chairman, Brandon Lewis, accused Labour of breaking “their promises” and taking “us back to square one on Brexit”.
The EU indicated officials in Brussels saw a new referendum as a complication rather than a solution.
“That does not sound like a solution to anything. The first referendum is still keeping us busy. And will they want to have a third one in another two years?” asked a senior EU diplomat in Brussels. “It’s more about power struggles in Britain than about managing Brexit seriously.”
But with May’s plan for maintaining close ties with the EU for trade in goods facing opposition from her own lawmakers, Labour could play a decisive role in whether any Brexit deal is approved by parliament.
May has a working majority of just 13 in the 650-seat parliament and a former junior minister said this month as many as 80 of her own lawmakers were prepared to vote against a Brexit deal based on the Chequers plan.
But like the governing Conservatives and much of the country, Labour is split over how to leave the bloc, with its veteran eurosceptic leader, Jeremy Corbyn, under pressure from many members to move to a more pro-EU position.
Brendan Chilton, general secretary of Brexit campaigning group Labour Leave, accused Starmer of launching a leadership bid and of trying to undermine Corbyn.
“This is a betrayal of the very highest order. It is a betrayal not only of the millions of Labour voters, but of our 2017 manifesto,” he said, referring to the party’s campaign at last year’s election that gained Labour more votes than many expected.
— Agencies