Labour vows to use new muscle to influence Brexit talks

Keir Starmer tells Brighton delegates that Labour could still be in the ‘driving seat’

The Labour Party still wants and expects to be in the “driving seat” of the Brexit negotiations as the next government, Keir Starmer told conference delegates today.

The shadow secretary of state for exiting the EU is so serious about that scenario, that he has instructed the government’s chief Brexit negotiator David Davis to give him regular briefings on the talks, which started this week, so that he can take over “as soon as this government falls.”

Mr Starmer said that in the meantime his party would “use the muscle we have got having taken away the prime minister’s majority” to hold the government to account over the exit process.

“David Davies will be required to come to the despatch box every time he returns from negotiations. And we need to engineer votes on all kinds of issues, including amendments to the Great Repeal Bill.

“Tories hold similar views to us about bringing Brexit to a more progressive place, so these are winnable votes.”

And he added: “Theresa May has interpreted the referendum in the most extreme way possible. In the general election the country gave her a clear answer that they don’t see that as our future with the EU.”

Speaking at a fringe meeting in Brighton, Exiting the EU – getting a fair deal for public service workers, Mr Starmer outlined areas in which Labour hoped to pressure the government:

  • Change the “belligerent tone” of its negotiating approach. “It may well be that formal membership is off the table, but partnership is not. With collaboration and co-operation we can face the challenges of the world together.”
  • Be clearer about the benefits of the single market and the customs union. “We have always said that the economy and jobs come first”.
  • Do the right thing by EU citizens in this country. “We should have unilaterally agreed their rights as soon as humanly possible after the referendum result.”
  • Get rid of the notion that no deal is better than a bad deal. “No deal is the worst possible outcome. We would be gently shoved over a cliff by the EU. And it is a cliff. Theresa May says that she’s happy to jump.”
  • Involve parliament and the public much more in the exit process and extend that to trade unions.

He also spoke about workplace rights, saying that it was crucial to ensure not only that existing workplace protections were not lost with EU membership, but that ”as workplace rights in Europe move forward, we don’t fall behind.”