Labour has warned Boris Johnson it is ready to take action through the courts if he tries to push through a No Deal Brexit against the will of Parliament.
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the party would do ‘whatever it takes’ to prevent the UK leaving the EU at the end of the month without an agreement.
Addressing the Co-operative Party conference in Glasgow, Sir Keir said if the Prime Minister was unable to secure a deal at next week’s crucial EU summit, he must comply with the so-called Benn Act and seek a further delay.
‘If he can’t – or I should say won’t – get a deal we will take whatever steps are necessary to prevent our country crashing out of the EU without a deal,’ he said.
‘If No Deal is secured by this time next week, Boris Johnson must seek and accept an extension. That’s the law. No ifs, no buts.
‘And if he doesn’t, we’ll enforce the law – in the courts and in Parliament. Whatever it takes, we will prevent a no-deal Brexit.’
It comes as Brussels gave the green light for a weekend of intense negotiations aimed at hammering out an agreement ahead of a crunch summit on Thursday.
Sir Keir poured scorn on suggestions Mr Johnson could get round the law by accompanying a request for an extension with a second letter to the EU saying he did not really want one.
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer (pictured) has said Labour will do ‘whatever it takes’ to prevent no-deal
Sir Keir poured scorn on suggestions Mr Johnson (pictured at a school in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, yesterday) could get round the law by accompanying a request for an extension with a second letter to the EU saying he did not really want one
‘That’s the equivalent of attaching a post-it note to divorce papers saying ‘Only kidding’. It’s a ridiculous idea.’
With EU and UK officials continuing to negotiate over the weekend, Sir Keir said if the Prime Minister did succeed in getting an agreement, Labour would demand it was put to the public in a fresh referendum.
‘If Boris Johnson does manage to negotiate a deal then we will insist that it is put back to the people in a confirmatory vote,’ he said.
With Parliament set to sit in a special emergency Saturday session at the end of the week, Sir Keir said it appeared any agreement Mr Johnson was able to negotiate would be ‘even worse’ than Theresa May’s rejected deal.
‘No level playing field protections. No customs union. A green light to deregulate. That kind of deal can never be one Labour supports,’ he said.
Brexiteer MP John Redwood this morning took to the airwaves to suggest two countries the Prime Minister should mirror in his Brexit trade agreement.
It comes as Brexiteer MP John Redwood (pictured) took to the airwaves this morning to suggest two countries the Prime Minister should mirror in his Brexit trade agreement
What happens next in the Brexit crisis?
Sunday: Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron are due to meet in France. The dinner will be a key waypointer to whether a deal will be possible next week.
Monday: Parliament is due to return for the Queen’s Speech.
In Brussels, the EU will ‘take stock’ with Mr Barnier over whether the legal text meets their criteria and can be put before leaders for approval.
October 17-18: A crunch EU summit in Brussels. Any deal could be signed off by leaders here. If the talks have broken down, expect Boris Johnson to either boycott the event, or stage a dramatic walkout.
October 19: Parliament will sit on Saturday for the first time since the Falklands War.
If there is no Brexit deal by this date Remainer legislation obliges the PM to beg the EU for an extension to avoid No Deal. Mr Johnson is likely to force a vote to make MPs ‘own’ any delay, having said he would rather ‘die in a ditch’ than accept one.
If there is a deal in place, there will be a make-or-break vote on whether to back it. If passed by the Commons, the government will start rushing legislation through Parliament immediately.
Monday: Jeremy Corbyn has said that he will let Mr Johnson trigger an election after an extension has been secured.
This would probably be the first day when a motion can be brought to a vote under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, or a confidence vote can be held.
October 31: The current deadline for the UK to leave the EU, which Mr Johnson has previously described as ‘do or die’.
Thursday, November 28: An election looks inevitable whichever way the Brexit drama goes. Legally there must be 25 working days between Parliament being dissolved and the election date. This looks to be the most likely date for a poll, given they are traditionally held on Thursdays.
Today marks the starting gun for fresh, ‘intensive’ negotiations between the EU and Mr Johnson’s team, following EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier’s declaration last night that a deal was possible within days.
It gave the green light for a weekend of intense negotiations aimed at hammering out an agreement ahead of a crunch summit on Thursday.
Mr Redwood suggested Mr Johnson should look for a free trade agreement.
During a discussion on how to unlock the Brexit ‘impasse’, he told the BBC’s Today Programme: ‘I think the border issue is greatly exaggerated because it’s within the interests of the EU and the Republic of Ireland to exaggerate it.
‘It’s mainly about what kind of barriers the EU would want to impose on their side because we don’t really need barriers on our side, other than the ones we’ve already got. But the way to unlock it is to have a free trade agreement.
‘But why can’t the EU see it and why can’t they understand if they can do a free trade agreement to Japan and Canada they could surely give one to their near neighbours who, under treaty, they have to have a good relationship with us.’
On the current Brexit plan, Mr Redwood added: ‘I think it’s extremely difficult moving between the option of splitting Northern Ireland off or all of us ending up in the customs union and single market.
‘I look forward to seeing what they might be able to find out that is better.’
The Prime Minister welcomed the shift by Brussels, but warned that ‘there’s a way to go’ and that it is not yet a ‘done deal’.
‘It’s important now that our negotiators on both sides get into proper talks about how to sort this thing out,’ he added.
Diplomats in Brussels said Mr Johnson had secured the breakthrough by agreeing to a customs border in the Irish Sea.
Speaking on a visit to a school yesterday afternoon, Mr Johnson said the new blueprint – which has been kept determinedly under wraps – would mean the ‘whole of the UK takes full advantage of Brexit’.
But he dodged when pressed on whether Northern Ireland will definitely leave the EU’s customs union, saying people should simply ‘look at what I have said before and draw their own conclusions’.
Boris Johnson was visiting a school in Beaconsfield yesterday (pictured) as the drama unfolded
Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster, whose support will be key to getting a deal through Parliament, fired a warning shot at the Prime Minister last night when she insisted she would block anything that ‘traps Northern Ireland in the European Union, whether single market or customs union, as the rest of the UK leaves’.
But she also said she was willing to be ‘flexible’ and indicated she could support proposals that see Northern Ireland treated differently to the rest of the UK if they have the backing of people in the province.
Hardline Eurosceptic Tory MPs provided further optimism there might be the numbers to get an agreement through the Commons when they said they were not ruling out supporting the suggested changes.
British officials will spend today and tomorrow locked in talks with their EU counterparts at the European Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters in Brussels.
What is the Irish backstop and why is it so divisive?
The so-called Irish border backstop is one of the most controversial parts of the existing Brexit deal. This is what it means:
What is the backstop?
The backstop was invented to meet promises to keep open the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland even if there is no comprehensive UK-EU trade deal.
The divorce deal says it will kick in automatically at the end of the Brexit transition period if that agreement is not in place.
It effectively keeps the UK in a customs union with the EU, and Northern Ireland in both the customs union and single market.
This means many EU laws will keep being imposed on the UK, restricting its ability to do its own trade deals. It also means regulatory checks on some goods crossing the Irish Sea.
Why have Ireland and the EU demanded it?
Because the UK is leaving the customs union and single market, the EU said it needed guarantees that people and goods circulating inside its border – in this case in Ireland – met its rules.
This is covered by the Brexit transition, which effectively maintains the status quo, and can in theory be done in the comprehensive EU-UK trade deal.
But the EU said there had to be a backstop to cover what happens in any gap between the transition and final deal.
Why do critics hate it?
Because Britain cannot decide when to leave the backstop.
Getting out – even if there is a trade deal – can only happen if both sides agree and Brexiteers fear the EU will unreasonably demand the backstop continues so EU law continues to apply in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland MPs also hate the regulatory border in the Irish Sea, insisting it unreasonably carves up the United Kingdom.
What are the UK’s new proposals?
The latest blueprint being floated would not be the same as a previous Northern Ireland-only backstop floated by Brussels, which was dismissed by Theresa May as something no British PM could accept.
That would have involved the province staying within the EU’s tax jurisdiction.
Instead, the idea is thought to be a much looser alignment of agricultural and food regulations with Ireland.
That could help avoid many checks on the border, but it is far from clear it would be acceptable either to the EU or the DUP.