Labour’s Keir Starmer reiterates vow to help Rishi Sunak pass Brexit deal

Labour’s Keir Starmer reiterates vow to help Rishi Sunak pass Brexit deal
Опубликовано: Monday, 20 February 2023 14:04

Labour leader says he’ll offer UK PM votes so he ‘doesn’t have to rely on his backbenches.’

LONDON — Labour Leader Keir Starmer repeated his pledge to help Rishi Sunak pass a post-Brexit Northern Ireland deal if it comes to a vote, amid mounting disquiet in the prime minister’s own ranks.

Sunak is hoping to keep Conservative Brexiteers and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) onside as the U.K. nears an agreement with the EU on the contentious Northern Ireland protocol.

Tuesday had been widely expected as the date Sunak would unveil an agreement, but that’s now in question amid warnings from both groups that the prime minister must change the role of the EU’s top court in the contentious arrangement.

Starmer — a prominent campaigner for Britain to stay in EU but now seeking to move his party on from Brexit — told reporters on a visit to Essex that the U.K. and EU now have "a window of opportunity to move forward" after months of wrangling, and said he would be prepared to "put party politics to one side."

"We will vote with the government and so the prime minister doesn’t have to rely on his backbenches," said Starmer.

And he added: "We in the Labour Party believe country first and party second. I am inviting the prime minister to do the same thing."

Starmer last month vowed to give Sunak "political cover" to pass a deal. Sunak may not be required to hold a Commons vote on an agreement with the EU, although he is likely to face mounting pressure from his own backbenchers for a formal say.

The prime minister’s spokesperson refused to get into the specifics of any potential vote at Monday’s daily lobby briefing.

"I’m not going to get into speculating on what action the government may or may not take should we secure a negotiated outcome with the EU which meets the challenges that the prime minister has set out," the spokesperson told journalists. "You will hear more from us should an agreement be reached with the EU."

The Northern Ireland protocol keeps the region — part of the U.K. — aligned with the EU in key areas in a bid to avoid a hard border at the politically sensitive frontier with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member. But the U.K. government has been arguing since 2020 that the setup creates unacceptable barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, while Northern Ireland’s DUP is boycotting power-sharing in the region until its demands for change are met.

Speaking on Monday morning, DUP MP Sammy Wilson said his party is now not expecting Sunak to get an agreement over the line this week.

And he warned the DUP will stay out of power-sharing if the U.K. strikes an EU deal without their participation. “We will certainly not collaborate with administering Brussels law in our part of the United Kingdom," he said.

Annabelle Dickson contributed reporting.

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