Boris boost from Starmer: Keir makes key Brexit call

13 September 2020, 22:13 | Updated: 14 September 2020, 04:03

Sir Keir Starmer has given Boris Johnson's Brexit legislation new hope
Sir Keir Starmer has given Boris Johnson's Brexit legislation new hope. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Sir Keir Starmer has given fresh hope to Boris Johnson's Brexit Bill sailing through Parliament, saying he will support the legislation if "substantial concerns" are addressed.

The Labour leader said his party would "play its part" in supporting the UK Internal Market Bill if the prime minister is willing to "fix" a number of cross-party concerns.

With Mr Johnson facing a possible rebellion from within the Conservative Party, Sir Keir's intervention could prove to be a key lifeline for the government.

Starmer - who will be on LBC from 9am on Monday for Call Keir with Nick Ferrari - still believes a free trade deal can be struck with the European Union if both parties "hunker down in good faith and break the logjam".

However, he also accused the prime minister of having "turned the clock back" and of "reigniting old rows" by tabling the legislation that would override parts of his own Withdrawal Agreement.

Tap here to watch July's instalment of Call Keir in full

On Sunday, shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said her party would not back the Bill in its current form and confirmed Labour MPs were planning to table amendments.

But Sir Keir said his and Labour's support would help ministers "get on with Brexit".

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, the leader of the opposition said: "Labour is prepared to play its part in making that happen.

"If the government fixes the substantial cross-party concerns that have been raised about the Internal Market Bill, then we are prepared to back it.

"But if they do not, and the talks collapse, then it is their failure and incompetence that will have let the British people down."

However, the Tories may think twice about welcoming Labour's support because their amendments are believed to be major.

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For example, the opposition will want to ensure the Bill does not risk breaking international law and will ask for it to address the "power grab" concerns of the UK's devolved administrations.

Sir Keir also highlighted the difficulty the government was having in telling the British public to stick to coronavirus measures - such as the new rules on social gatherings coming into effect on Monday - while simultaneously defending a potential breach of international law.

He described it as a task which is "as ludicrous as it is frustrating".

"The priorities of the British people. We should be getting on with defeating this virus, not banging on about Europe," the Holborn and St Pancras MP said.

"Get on with Brexit and defeat the virus. That should be the government's mantra."

Three former Tory leaders, including ex-prime ministers Theresa May and Sir John Major, have urged Mr Johnson to change the legislation.

In addition, some senior Conservatives will table amendments to the Bill, which will be debated in the House of Commons on Monday.

But the party's co-chairman, Amanda Milling, struck back at Sir Keir and accused him of delaying the UK's exit from the EU in the past.

"He claims he wants to move on from Brexit, but he simply wants the British public to forget he spent the last four years trying to overturn what they voted for," she said.

"Meanwhile, we're focusing on securing a free trade agreement with the EU and building back better for the people of this country."