Starmer confirms Labour MPs will be whipped to vote in favour of Brexit deal

Sienna Rodgers
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Keir Starmer has confirmed this afternoon that Labour MPs will be whipped to vote in favour of the post-Brexit trade deal agreed by the United Kingdom and the European Union today on Christmas Eve.

Delivering a statement at a Labour press conference, the opposition leader said: “Labour is against no deal. Firmly and absolutely. And the British people would never forgive us if we enabled a no deal outcome.

“There are some that argue Labour should be neutral on this issue. To abstain. I do not agree. Leadership is about taking the tough decisions in the national interest. It is about being a serious, responsible opposition.”

He added: “At a moment of such national significance, it is not credible for Labour to be on the side lines. That is why I can say today that when this deal comes before parliament, Labour will accept it and vote for it.

“But let me be absolutely clear – and say directly to the government – up against no deal, we accept this deal, but the consequences of it are yours. And yours alone. We will hold you to account for it. Every second you are in power.”

The Speaker of the House of Commons has granted a request from the government to recall parliament at 9.30am on December 30th for MPs to debate legislation and give effect to the agreement with the EU in UK law.

“The choice is no deal or this deal. We will certainly be better off with this deal, and we will have to make it work. No deal would have terrible consequences for our country, and the Labour Party could not enable that to happen,” Starmer said.

“We have to make a success of this, we have to make it work. It is far better than no deal.” He added that the agreement was “very, very thin” on services and equivalence provisions, but reiterated it was “in the national interest”.

Starmer told ITV: “An incoming Labour government in 2024 would inherit this deal. Therefore we have to make this deal work. It’s what the public would expect of an incoming Labour government, it’s what you would expect.

“Of course we’d want to improve on it. But we’d have to operate to this deal. It’s really important that we are in a position to say we go into that election building on this deal.”

Asked what are the benefits of Brexit, Starmer replied: “We’ve left the EU… We’ve now got a base on which to build. That is a very, very good thing.” He said there would be “relief” across communities now a deal has been struck.

Asked whether it was “political cowardice” for Labour to back the deal, he said: “It’s completely the opposite. These are difficult and tough decisions. But in the end there is only really one choice, a binary choice, here.

“Either we support the deal or we support the alternative, which is no deal. And we’ve always been against no deal. That is why we’ll vote against this deal. I think many people will see this as a tough but necessary decision”.

Unite’s Len McCluskey, who had urged the Labour leadership to support any Brexit deal agreed, has remarked that the deal is “definitely to be welcomed”, though will be considered a “basis from which we must build”.

Labour frontbencher Rachel Reeves told a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party in November that a deal struck by this government would be a platform for building on, and voting for it would show the party is listening to voters.

Backbench MPs including Hilary Benn, Liam Byrne, Harriet Harman, Sarah Owen and Yvette Cooper supported these arguments. Others, including Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds, have had more reservations.

It was reported that shadow cabinet members such as Dodds, Emily Thornberry, Bridget Phillipson and David Lammy were in favour of Labour abstaining on the vote. But Starmer said Labour would unite around one position.

“We’ve pulled together incredibly over the last few months through difficult decisions,” he said earlier this month. “Of course there are different opinions as you would expect, but we’ll pull together, discuss it as a team and be united.”

Below is the full text of Keir Starmer’s statement.

As leader of the Labour Party, I have urged the government to get on with negotiating the Brexit deal that it promised. I wanted the talks to succeed. I did so because a deal is in the national interest.

Businesses need a deal. Working people need a deal. Families need a deal. The fact that the government was even considering no deal – during a global pandemic – was grossly irresponsible.

After months of negotiations, a deal has now been agreed. The choice facing parliament – the choice facing Labour – is now whether to accept that deal or reject it.

The deal is a thin agreement. It does not provide adequate protections for British manufacturing. Our financial services. Creative industries. Or workplace rights.

It is not the deal the government promised. Far from it. And there are serious questions about the government’s preparedness for the new arrangements.

Leaving everything to the last minute has made it even more difficult for businesses to be ready. A better deal could have been negotiated. But I accept that option has now gone. The chance for renegotiation is over.

There are just two paths now left for our country. To move forward with a deal. Or without one. No deal is simply not an option. The social, economic and political consequences would be devastating.

Jobs would be put at risk. Businesses would collapse. Investment would dry up. Our national security would be threatened.

The disruption we have seen at the Port of Dover in recent days would be the tip of the iceberg. And the cumulative effect – on top of the worst recession of any major economy – would be unimaginable.

Labour is against no deal. Firmly and absolutely. And the British people would never forgive us if we enabled a no deal outcome.

There are some that argue Labour should be neutral on this issue. To abstain. I do not agree.

Leadership is about taking the tough decisions in the national interest. It is about being a serious, responsible opposition. A government-in-waiting.

This is the deal Labour will inherit in 2024. It is something we will build on compared to the chaos of no deal. The public would expect a labour government to make it work.

And the EU would expect us to make it work. And to use it to protect our shared interests. Including the peace process in Northern Ireland.

At a moment of such national significance, it is not credible for Labour to be on the side lines. That is why I can say today that when this deal comes before Parliament, Labour will accept it and vote for it.

But let me be absolutely clear – and say directly to the government – up against no deal, we accept this deal, but the consequences of it are yours. And yours alone.

We will hold you to account for it. Every second you are in power. For the promises you have made. And the promises you break.

No longer can you blame somebody else. Responsibility for this deal – lies squarely at the door of Number 10.

I want to address the British people directly. I know how tired you are of Brexit. The endless negotiations. And political squabbles.

You want to move on. You want politicians in Westminster talking about the things that matter to you and your family.

Securing our economy. Protecting our NHS. And rebuilding our country. Those are my priorities. We are a great country. We have done extraordinary things.

Our NHS is the envy of the world. British scientists were among the first to discover a coronavirus vaccine.

I want to be Prime Minister because I believe a better future is possible for our country. That we can be even greater than we are today. That we can achieve so much more.

That we can stand proud on the world stage. And that we can make Britain the best place to grow up in and the best place to grow old in.

That is the change I believe in. That is the change I want. And with Labour under new leadership that is the change we offer. Thank you.

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