Government 'in a mess' over Brexit, says Keir Starmer

Keir Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, Crown Prosecution Service, UK

Keir Starmer has accused the government of being in a “mess” over Brexit, after David Davis was forced to come to the House of Commons and repeat the government’s pledge that MPs will be given a “meaningful” vote on the final deal.

Labour had tabled an urgent question in parliament, after the Brexit secretary sparked a backlash among MPs by appearing to suggest they might not get a vote until after Britain leaves the EU.

In a tetchy exchange with Starmer at the dispatch box on Thursday, Davis repeated the promise made by his junior minister, David Jones, in February that MPs will be given a vote. “The choice will be meaningful: either to accept that deal, or to move forward without a deal,” he said.

“Clearly we cannot say for certain at this stage when this will be agreed. But as Michel Barnier said, he hopes to get a draft deal done by October 2018 and that is our hope as well.”

Davis’s department issued a statement clarifying his own remarks on Wednesday afternoon.

Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, replied: “What a mess – one thing one day, another thing the next. Today he says the vote will be before the deal is concluded – that’s not good enough.”

Asked by Labour MP Seema Malhotra during a committee hearing on Wednesday morning when he envisaged parliament would be given a vote on the future relationship with the EU, Davis said discussions could go on until the final minute of the final day of negotiations.

When Malhotra asked if that could mean a vote coming after the UK formally exited under the article 50 process timeline – which would be 29 March 2019 – he said: “Yes, it could be. It can’t come before we have the deal.”

The promise of a meaningful vote was one of the key concessions made by the government during the passage of the article 50 bill in February, when it faced the prospect of a defeat over MPs’ insistence they must be given the chance of rejecting the deal.

The spat comes as the government prepares to bring the complex EU withdrawal bill – the flagship bill needed to get British law ready for Brexit – back to the House of Commons next month. Backbenchers have tabled hundreds of amendments.

Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the House of Commons, later confirmed that the first two days of debate on the committee stage of the withdrawal bill, when MPs will seek to amend it, will take place on 13 and 14 November.

The bill has been held up by more than 300 amendments on issues including devolution and the scope of “Henry VIII powers” that allow ministers to amend EU legislation without full parliamentary scrutiny as they bring it into British law to prepare for Brexit.

The former education secretary Nicky Morgan signalled the intent of Tory rebels to demand a vote on the final deal, insisting they were “deadly serious”. She urged the government to adopt a “concession strategy”.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Heather Stewart Political editor, for theguardian.com on Thursday 26th October 2017 11.20 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010