Keir Starmer has rejected calls for an extension to the Brexit transition period, demanding that the Prime Minister agrees a trade deal with the European Union this week and arguing that “delaying it further isn’t going to help”.
Discussing Brexit after a key speech aimed at Scottish voters this morning, the Labour leader criticised the government for the uncertainty it has left businesses in as they face the end of the transition period on December 31st.
But asked whether he would support an extension, Starmer told those watching: “I don’t want an extension – I want the deal. The Prime Minister promised a deal. He said he had an “oven-ready deal”. He needs to get on and deliver that.
“And just delaying it further isn’t going to help with the great uncertainty there already is for businesses. So, I say to the Prime Minister, get on and deliver the deal that you promised. Get on and deliver it this week, today, tomorrow, and then we can recall parliament and deal with it.”
He added: “Businesses I’ve spoken to in Scotland and actually across the UK are tearing their hair out on that uncertainty because the government is saying to them ‘prepare for this, prepare for that’. But they don’t know what they’re preparing for.
“Their strong message to me is get the deal done. That’s what you promised. End the uncertainty and let us get on with the preparation. They’re equally clear that no deal would be a very bad outcome and a complete failure of the government.”
Demands to extend the Brexit period have grown amid increasing numbers of Covid cases, countries imposing travel bans on the UK and the fast-approaching end of the transition period, which comes to a close at the end of this year.
London mayor Sadiq Khan released a statement this morning urging Boris Johnson to seek an extension and arguing that “securing our key supply chains and fighting the coronavirus pandemic requires the full and undivided efforts of ministers”.
Asked why Khan’s call is “wrong”, Starmer said: “It would be far better for the government to get the deal over the line today, tomorrow or certainly this week. That is what businesses are crying out for, it’s what the country is crying out for.
“And it’s what we were promised. Simply delaying and dithering further I don’t think gets us anywhere. So, I say to the Prime Minister, get that deal over the line, get the deal you promised.
“That’s in the national interest. It’s what businesses want. It’s what communities want and it’s what we absolutely need for our economy. So, that’s my priority.”
The Labour leader used his speech, given remotely this morning, to launch a constitutional commission to deliver “real and lasting economic and political devolution across our towns, communities and to people across the country”.
Outlining his commitment to devolution and setting the tone ahead of the Scottish parliamentary elections next year, Starmer slammed the Tories’ “cavalier and chaotic approach” to Brexit and argued it has “frayed the bonds of the UK”.
Referring to the internal markets bill, on trade within the UK after Brexit, he said it “could have been a huge opportunity to push power outwards, but instead the Prime Minister showed his instinct is to hoard power, not to devolve it”.
The Labour leader stressed the importance of securing a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU this week, saying that this is “not a game of brinkmanship” and emphasising to Boris Johnson that livelihoods and businesses are at stake.
Reacting to the Labour leader rejecting demands for an extension to the Brexit transition period this morning, former New Labour strategist and anti-Brexit campaigner Alistair Campbell tweeted: “Not serious.”
Several Conservative MPs, as well as the Labour London mayor, have called on the Prime Minister to seek an extension to the transition period after more than £33bn was wiped off the FTSE 100 this morning.
Negotiations continued today after the UK government and the EU failed to reach an agreement over the weekend. The European parliament had previously said that talks needed to be concluded by Sunday to have time to ratify any agreement.
The UK parliament is currently in recess for the Christmas and New Year period, but Johnson has said he is willing to recall MPs if a post-Brexit trade deal is reached with the EU. 48 hours’ notice is needed to recall parliament.
Starmer also told those watching this morning that “no responsible Prime Minister would grant” a fresh Scottish independence referendum in the early part of the next Holyrood term as favoured by the ruling SNP.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in November that the independence referendum should “be in the earlier part of the next parliament”, and SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford has said it must take place in 2021.