The British Labour party will vote down any Brexit deal which prime minister Theresa May brings to parliament and is open to holding a referendum on whether the country should even leave the EU, the shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said on Tuesday.
Addressing delegates at the party’s annual conference in Liverpool, Mr Starmer said that “if Theresa May brings back a deal that fails our tests – and that looks increasingly likely – Labour will vote against it. No ifs, no buts.”
He was referring to six conditions that the party had laid down which covered economic, social and security-related issues.
“And if the prime minister thinks we’ll wave through a vague deal asking us to jump blindfolded into the unknown she can think again. You can’t meet Labour’s tests by failing to provide answers. We will vote down a blind Brexit.
“Let me be clear: this isn’t about frustrating the process. It’s about stopping a destructive Tory Brexit. It’s about fighting for our values. And about fighting for our country.”
The biggest cheers for Mr Starmer came when he confirmed that the party wanted to keep open the option of there being a referendum on whatever deal was brought to the country by Mrs May and – even that remaining members of the EU could be on the vote.
“If [a general election] is not possible, we must have other options,” Mr Starmer said. “And, conference, that must include campaigning for a public vote. Conference, it’s right that parliament has the first say. But if we need to break the impasse, our options must include campaigning for a public vote and nobody is ruling out remain as an option.”
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As his words sunk in prolonged cheers erupted in the conference hall and there was a standing ovation – Labour’s membership is pro-European and a poll this week revealed that almost 90% of party members wanted to remain in the EU.
Earlier in the week elements of the party leadership loyal to leader Jeremy Corbyn – including shadow chancellor John McDonnell and key union boss Len McCluskey – had suggested that any public vote would merely be on whether to accept or reject any potential Brexit deal.
Mr Starmer’s speech has been seized on by opponents of Brexit, with a fellow MP Alison McGovern claiming that “Labour is united around a policy that can not only help us the next election but will ensue we can be the radical, reforming government we all want.”
However, it was described as a “betrayal” by Labour Leave, a group of pro-Brexiteers in the party. “This is a betrayal of the very highest order. It is a betrayal not only of the millions of Labour voters, but of our 2017 manifesto,” said its general secretary Brendan Chilton.
“It is a betrayal that voters will remember for a very long time, and we will lose MPs as a result. There is no doubt. It was a P45 to our MPs in the Midlands and Wales.”