MPs have “one shot” next week to prevent a no-deal Brexit, a senior Labour politician told a small gathering in Swansea.
Sir Keir Starmer predicted a turbulent few days as MPs return from recess next Tuesday for a four-day window before Parliament is due to be suspended until mid-October.
The Shadow Brexit Secretary said he had been liaising all summer with a cross-party group of MPs and an opposition leaders’ group.
He said: “My job has been to make sure that the two groups come together with one plan.”
He said he was confident that legislation could be put on the table next Tuesday.
“I think we have got the numbers to do this,” he said. “We have got one shot – we have got to do it in a very professional way.”
Sir Keir said he felt the legislative route was preferable to a no-confidence motion in Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
But Mr Johnson has warned that the blocking move would damage his chances of getting a deal with the European Union before the October 31 departure date.
The Prime Minister has also said that the Parliamentary suspension is to allow the Government to hold a Queen’s Speech and outline its new policies.
Speaking at SA1’s Village Inn, Sir Keir said: “Next week is going to be one of the most important weeks in Parliament.”
The MP for Holborn and St Pancras said it was true that Queen’s Speeches took place most years and that Parliament was closed down, but he said this normally happened in May or June.
“Nobody with a straight face can say it’s necessary to do it now, and it’s necessary to do it for five weeks,” said Sir Keir.
The situation could be different if MPs had voted for Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal agreement, which came before the Commons three times.
Asked why he had voted against it, Sir Keir said it had lacked a customs union or single market alignment, which he believed would be ruinous for business – especially manufacturing which relied on a “just in time” supply structure.
“Almost all businesses are saying to me, ‘It can be a bit of a pain dealing with the EU, but don’t change it’,” he said.
Sir Keir said his conversations with figures in Brussels suggested that Mr Johnson was not coming up with alternatives to the controversial Irish “backstop” – the system designed to keep the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland open whatever the outcome of the UK and the EU’s negotiations about their future relationship.
European leaders have given the Prime Minister 30 days to come up with viable alternatives.
“My challenge has always been (to Mr Johnson) – if you have got an alternative, put it on the table,” said Sir Keir.
“If there was a credible alternative, Theresa May would have grabbed it with both hands.”
His gut feeling was that the EU would prefer a no-deal Brexit than risk undermining the Irish border and “throwing Ireland under a bus”.
The former Director of Public Prosecutions said the Brexit saga had seriously damaged the UK’s reputation and prevented the focus needed on other issues, such as regional inequality.
He was in Swansea at the invitation of MP Carolyn Harris, who he praised for her campaigning work on issues such as gambling, children’s funeral costs and domestic violence.
The pair were heading from SA1 to a kids’ summer lunch club which the Swansea East MP launched three years ago.
Mrs Harris said many people living on estates in her patch said they had voted to leave the EU because they didn’t have anything in the first place.
Their concerns, she said, were problems with benefits, homelessness, domestic violence and the “county lines” supply of drugs.
Mrs Harris said the idea of a second EU referendum was not a popular one in her constituency.
“They say, ‘Why should we have a second referendum when you haven’t delivered on the first?’” she said.
But Sir Keir reckoned we could all be heading to the polls before long.
“I think we can avoid falling out (with no deal) but I think the price will be a general election,” he said.
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