Labour and EU tell Theresa May to move Brexit red lines 'sooner rather than later' if she wants a deal
Starmer calls for vote on customs union as Barnier says he will simply repeat EU position in meeting
Labour has called for MPs to be given a vote on a customs union with the EU, warning that Theresa May must be willing to shift her red lines if she wants her Brexit deal ratified.
The call by shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer came as the EU said there could be no progress until Britain moved its position, as UK ministers headed to Brussels on a mission to convince the bloc otherwise.
Speaking on a visit to Dublin to meet with the Irish government, Mr Starmer said there was a majority for a close economic relationship “if you are prepared to try and find it”.
The prime minister also came under pressure from Brussels on Monday, with chief negotiator Michel Barnier saying the bloc was waiting for the UK to act and that there could be no movement until red lines were shifted.
“We’re waiting for clarity and movement from the United Kingdom,” Mr Barnier told reporters while on a visit to Luxembourg.
The warning appears to be a bad omen for Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay, who is making his first visit to Brussels in post on Monday. He will have dinner with Mr Barnier and try to convince him of the need for changes to the Irish backstop – which the EU has flat-out refused to countenance.
But Mr Barnier said: “Tonight I will repeat the EU’s positions. I will listen to what the secretary of state has to tell us concerning the alternative arrangements which the UK would like
“But it’s not more than a concept today. I will also evaluate the interest from the UK side for possible changes to the political declaration, which, let me remind you, fixes the outline quite precisely for the future separation.”
David Lidington, Ms May’s Cabinet Brexit fixer, is also in the EU capital for meetings, and he and Mr Barclay will go to Strasbourg on Tuesday for meetings with MEPs.
Speaking ahead of a meeting with the Irish deputy prime minister Simon Coveney on Monday, Mr Starmer told reporters: “We will have to see what happens next, but the point of the exercise is to say there is a majority for a close economic relationship if you are prepared to try to find it, and I said we should test that by having a vote on the customs union.
“The Labour Party has some concerns about the backstop but we absolutely accept that it’s inevitable that we need a backstop. At this stage of the exercise the Article 50 window is almost being closed now so we need a backstop.
“The letter was an agreed letter that was sent out. The critical question is: is she, in her response, indicating a willingness to drop her red lines or not? And that’s what needs to be tested sooner rather than later.”
Following the meeting between Mr Barclay and Mr Barnier, a UK government spokesperson said: “Secretary of State for the Department for Exiting the European Union Stephen Barclay and Michel Barnier followed up on last week's meeting between the Prime Minister and President of the European Commission Juncker to discuss the next steps in the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and explore whether a way through can be found that would be acceptable to the UK Parliament and to the European Union.
"The meeting was constructive and Mr Barclay and Mr Barnier agreed to further talks in the coming days and that their teams would continue to work in the meantime on finding a way forward.”