Tories must publish Brexit plan or there’s zero chance of a good deal | Keir Starmer

It’s time to halt this destructive uncertainty over quitting the EU. MPs should support Labour’s Brexit motion, to be debated this week

After 43 years of membership, exiting the EU was never going to be easy. But the government’s current tone and approach is making a hard job even more difficult. There have been 165 days since the referendum result and there are only 118 left until the prime minister’s 31 March deadline to trigger article 50. The clock is ticking, but still we do not know the government’s basic plan for Brexit.

We do not have answers to fundamental questions such as the government’s position on the customs union, our likely relationship with the single market or future contributions to the EU budget. The government has also failed to provide much-needed certainty for the 3.5 million EU citizens living in the UK.

This matters, because uncertainty over the government’s plans – and the continuing likelihood that it favours a hard Brexit – is weakening our negotiating position and making it less likely that Britain will get the best possible Brexit deal, one that protects jobs, the economy and living standards.

This uncertainty is already feeding through to the economy, with the Office for Budget Responsibility revising down business investment by 4.7% this year. Uncertainty over the status of EU nationals has also contributed to a surge in applications for UK residency from those worried about what the future may bring.

The prime minister, Theresa May, and her Brexit secretary, David Davis, have repeatedly said there will be no running commentary on their article 50 plans. But in the past few days and weeks, this is precisely what we have seen – a running commentary provided by leaked memos, notes caught on camera and the foreign secretary’s novel approach to diplomacy.

At the same time, parliament is being sidelined and denied the chance to scrutinise the government’s plans on the most important issue facing the country for generations. The prime minister should know that without greater clarity over the basic terms of her Brexit strategy this speculation and uncertainty will persist. And for as long as this is the case, our negotiating hand weakens.

During recent visits to Brussels, I have been left in no doubt that our EU negotiating partners are deeply concerned that the government’s tone and approach are hindering a mutually beneficial Brexit deal.

Instead of providing certainty over the UK’s basic aims, the government has put out mixed messages, veering from the extreme version of Brexit suggested by the prime minister’s party conference speech to the undefined version of Brexit suggested by the Nissan deal and Davis’s comments that EU budget contributions may continue post-Brexit.

We need to end this unnecessary uncertainty. That is why Labour has called an opposition day debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday on a motion that calls for the government to publish a plan for Brexit before article 50 is invoked.

Labour accepts and respects the referendum result. We recognise Britain is leaving the EU and we will not frustrate the process that leads to that.

But we will also fight for a Brexit deal that is in the national interest – not in the interest of the 52% or the 48%, but for the 100%.

That means opposing a hard Brexit that risks jobs and our economy and fighting to ensure that key protections on workers’ rights and the environment are retained and enhanced. It also means holding the government to account every step of the way and making sure it has a proper plan to deliver the smart, sensible Brexit we need.

Labour’s motion in the Commons on Wednesday is an important step in that process. It calls for a basic plan – not the finer detail or minutiae of a negotiating position, but a basic plan – for Brexit to be put before the public and parliament.

On the defining issue of our time, that surely is not too much to ask.

Keir Starmer QC, shadow secretary of state for exiting the EU, is MP for Holborn & St Pancras


Keir Starmer

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Is this the night of the living dead? No, it’s Britain’s Brexit team | Frankie Boyle
The EU couldn’t have picked a better PM and her crack troops to lead Britain out of Europe

Frankie Boyle

28, Oct, 2017 @11:05 PM

Article image
The irresponsible know-nothing right that treats everything as a joke | Nick Cohen
Mocking liberals is easy for the Tory ultras but a workable plan for how to govern is far too boring

Nick Cohen

04, Mar, 2018 @12:05 AM

Article image
Where are the heroes who will lead the Brexit retreat? | Nick Cohen
We were taken into the referendum on a wave of propaganda and untruths. They must be confronted before we face total disaster

Nick Cohen

28, Oct, 2017 @11:05 PM

Article image
Well done, Brexit ultras – the EU has never had more power over Britain | Andrew Rawnsley
European leaders now get to dictate terms to a supplicant Britain

Andrew Rawnsley

17, Mar, 2019 @9:00 AM

Article image
The Observer view on Theresa May’s weak leadership over Brexit| Observer editorial
The prime minister must be honest about what is possible and prepare the public to accept reality

Observer editorial

10, Feb, 2018 @9:00 PM

Article image
The Observer view on Brexit: it’s our political system, not just MPs, that is failing us | Observer editorial
Both Labour and the Tories have put party management before the national interest

Observer editorial

07, Apr, 2019 @4:59 AM

Article image
The Observer view of Britain’s shambolic Brexit negotiations | Observer editorial
It is in Britain and Europe’s best interests to stop the clock on our withdrawal before yet more damage is done

Observer editorial

11, Nov, 2017 @8:41 PM

Article image
The Observer view on giving voters a chance to deliver their verdict on Brexit terms | Observer editorial
Politicians of both major parties have led us to the brink of disaster. The people must be given a voice

Observer editorial

16, Sep, 2018 @5:10 AM

Article image
The Observer view on Labour’s new Brexit policy
Labour’s newfound pragmatism over the EU, revealed by Keir Starmer in the Observer today, is a game-changer. Now the real argument over Brexit can begin

Observer editorial

26, Aug, 2017 @11:04 PM

Article image
The Observer view on parliament’s role in deciding the nature of Brexit | Observer editorial
A clear message has been sent to hard Brexiters: you will not close down debate on our future

Observer editorial

15, Oct, 2016 @11:05 PM