Leaving the Brexit transition period without a trade deal would be a “failure of negotiation” and Boris Johnson “needs to deliver” on his promise to the British people, Sir Keir Starmer has told Sky News.
Speaking to political editor Beth Rigby, the Labour leader said an agreement with the EU on the terms of the future relationship “can be struck in the next few weeks”.
“The issues that are outstanding are not insurmountable,” Sir Keir said.
“To have no deal would be a failure of negotiation, a failure that has to be owned by the prime minister.
“He promised the British people he’d get a good deal, he needs to deliver on that promise.”
Sir Keir added: “Let’s get the deal, let’s move on and focus on the job in hand, which is dealing with this [coronavirus] pandemic.”
The UK left the EU on 31 January but is continuing to follow its rules until the end of 2020 during a “transition period”, while negotiators try to hammer out a trade deal to replace existing arrangements on things like tariffs.
Sir Keir served as shadow Brexit secretary in Jeremy Corbyn’s frontbench team – and has previously defended its second referendum policy at the last general election.
Asked about his own Brexit position now that he has succeeded Mr Corbyn, Sir Keir said: “I don’t think there’s a case for reopening the issue of membership of the EU.
“We have left. We need a deal – that’s in the national interest.
“We need to get the deal and we need to move on.”
The Labour leader was speaking to Sky News amid controversy over the prime minister’s bid to override parts of his Brexit deal in the event no trade agreement is reached with Brussels.
Worries about the issue have weighed on the pound in recent days and saw the currency fall below $1.30 against the dollar on Tuesday for the first time since late July.
Downing Street has defended the changes contained in the Internal Market Bill, which will be tabled on Wednesday, describing them as “limited clarifications”.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has admitted the plan “does break international law”, but in a “very specific and limited way”.
It came after Jonathan Jones resigned as one of Whitehall’s most senior legal advisers, amid reports he was “very unhappy” with the proposal.
Later on Tuesday, another high-ranking civil servant resigned.
Rowena Collins Rice has left her role as director general at the Attorney General’s Office (AGO), although the department said her exit was “the result of a process dating back several months”.
“What the government’s proposing is wrong. I think that’s plain for everybody to see,” Sir Keir said.
“But we need to take a step back here and focus on getting a deal.”
The Labour leader said he was not working with Tory MPs opposed to the plans to try and table an amendment and block the move.
“I’ve not been talking cross-party on this issue because I’m very focused on the national interest which is getting a deal,” he said.
European Parliament President David Sassoli has said any UK attempt to undermine the withdrawal agreement would have “serious consequences”.
Ireland’s foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney said the comments from Mr Lewis were “gravely concerning” and that Dublin’s ambassador in London has been asked to raise the matter with the UK government.
“The UK does have a long and proud tradition of upholding international law and advocating for the primacy for the rule of law,” he said.
“Any departure from this tradition, particularly on an issue as high profile as Brexit, would have serious implications, not least for the UK’s international reputation.”
Some Conservative MPs have also voiced their disquiet.
Former prime minister Theresa May made her displeasure clear in the Commons, asking how the UK could “reassure future international partners” that it “can be trusted to abide by the legal obligations of the agreements it signs”.
Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, a former defence minister, tweeted: “Britain’s soft power and respected voice on the international stage comes from our duty & resolve to defend & uphold international laws.
“This cannot change as we secure Brexit – otherwise our stance in holding China/Russia/Iran etc to account and upgrading the rules-based order is severely weakened.”
Other Conservative backbenchers also expressed their consternation, with Sir Bob Neil saying it was “unacceptable”, George Freeman tweeting “oh dear” and Sir Roger Gale commenting that “Britain is an honourable country and that honour is not for sale or barter”.