Theresa May is “bluffing” about leaving the EU without a deal and would not take Britain over the cliff edge if her agreement with Brussels was rejected by MPs, Labour’s Brexit chief has said.

Speaking to The Independent on a visit to Brussels Keir Starmer said no deal was simply not a “viable” option for any British prime minister and that he simply did not believe Ms May would lead the UK into such a catastrophe.

“I have never accepted that no deal is a viable option. The consequences of no deal would be catastrophic for jobs, the economy and for the border in Northern Ireland,” he said while visiting EU officials in the Belgian capital.

“I honestly don’t believe any prime minister would seriously consider taking the decision to crash the UK out of the EU without an agreement. The no-deal rhetoric from the government is a bluff and we shouldn’t fall for it.”

Under the Withdrawal Act the prime minister will have to face a vote in parliament about what to do if her deal is rejected; Labour sources indicated that they are confident there would be no majority in the Commons for a no deal. 

They added that there would simply not be enough parliamentary time to pass any of the preparatory legislation that would have to be put in place by the government to prepare for such an outcome. 

Previous investigations by The Independent have also found that physical building work at ports and airports that would be required to deal with new customs procedures is also certain not to be ready in time.

Ms May has repeatedly claimed that “no deal is better than a bad deal” and said she is prepared to take Britain out without an agreement. The government has said there will be no extension of revocation of Article 50 and no second referendum and that the UK will be leaving no matter what on 29 March 2019.

The prime minister lacks a majority in parliament and is likely to need some Labour backbenchers to vote for her agreement to get it through. Some Labour MPs have already broken cover and told The Independent that they expect to vote with the government in order to avoid a no deal, which they believe the prime minister would go through with.  

But Labour’s leadership has said it will vote down any deal that does not meet its six tests of preserving jobs, workers’ rights, and environmental standards, and that does not include a customs union with the EU. The party also says it will vote down a “blind Brexit” that does not give sufficient detail about the future relationship.

The European Court of Justice is set to rule on whether Britain can unilaterally revoke Article 50 and cease the process, with the manoeuvre currently the subject of legal dispute.

A consultation of members of the campaign group Momentum, which is supportive of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, found that 92 per cent want Labour MPs to vote against Ms May’s deal and that 89 per cent believe no deal is not a viable option. 

Sir Keir was in Brussels on Wednesday meeting with EU officials including Frans Timmermans, the deputy head of the European Commission; Markus Winkler, a senior European parliament official; and Roberto Gualtieri, a socialist member of the EU parliament’s Brexit Steering Group. He was also received by European Council officials.



The Independent has launched its #FinalSay campaign to demand that voters are given a voice on the final Brexit deal.

Sign our petition here

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