This is the full letter sent by Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, to Theresa May today before the Brexit bill is debated in the Commons tomorrow.
Dear Prime Minister
EU Withdrawal Bill
On Tuesday, the House of Commons will finally have the opportunity to debate the details of the EU Withdrawal Bill.
Labour has been clear since the legislation was first published that it is simply not fit for purpose. In its current form, it would give huge and unaccountable power to ministers, sideline parliament and put crucial rights and protections at risk. Labour is not alone in raising concerns about the bill. MPs across parliament, including in your own party, have called for a different approach.
Over recent months, I have set out Labour’s reasonable and considered demands on where the withdrawal bill should be changed. The first of these, which we will be debating on Tuesday, is for the Bill to allow for transitional arrangements on the same basic terms as now — including being in a customs union with the EU and within the single market.
In your Florence speech in September, you proposed “an implementation period of around two years” after March 2019 that “should continue on current terms” and “would be [in] the existing structure of EU rules and regulations.” As stated in the EU’s article 50 guidelines, that can only mean abiding by the common rules of the single market and a customs union, including continued jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) during this time-limited period.
In addition, the European Council’s guidelines on the Brexit negotiations also state that any transitional arrangements “would require existing Union regulatory, budgetary, supervisory, judiciary and enforcement instruments and structures to apply.”
Labour has been clear since the summer that in order to avoid a cliff edge for our economy there will need to be a time-limited transitional period between our exit from the EU and the new lasting relationship we build with our European partners.
However, despite your speech in Florence the government’s position on transitional arrangements remains unclear. This is for two reasons:
First, the withdrawal bill as drafted cannot deliver a time-limited transitional period on the same basic terms because it brings an immediate end to any role for the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Clause 6 of the bill states: “A [UK] court or tribunal is not bound by any principles laid down, or any decisions made, on or after exit day by the European Court”.
Second, the Government’s position on transitional arrangements has been undermined by statements from your own colleagues contradicting your Florence speech. We have counted 14 Conservative MPs, including the foreign secretary, who have ruled out or rejected a transitional deal on the terms you have outlined. That is more MPs than the Government’s working majority.
Over recent weeks, it has become increasingly clear that you alone do not have the authority to deliver a transitional deal with Europe and to take the necessary steps to protect jobs and the economy.
Labour will always put the national interest first during the Brexit process. That is why we have tabled amendments to the bill that would put jobs and the economy first by allowing Britain to remain in the single market and a customs union during a transitional phase.
I believe there is a sensible majority in the House of Commons for transitional arrangements that serve the national interest. That is why I am urging the government to adopt an agreed position on transition and to support our amendments in the Commons on Tuesday.
Given the significant interest in this matter, I am making this letter public.
Keir Starmer MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union