ANOTHER Sunday, another set of traps laid by shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer to ambush plans for Britain to leave the EU.
Two months ago, in a move choreographed with business chiefs and the likes of Lord Mandelson, he committed Labour to supporting “transitional” arrangements that would prolong the sovereignty of EU rules and institutions for up to four years.
A few weeks later, he and the pro-EU majority in the Parliamentary Labour Party almost succeeded in defeating the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, on the pretext of opposing its so-called “Henry VIII” provisions.
Such second reading votes are traditionally upon the principle of a parliamentary Bill, which in this case was the implementation of last year’s referendum result.
Now Starmer declares that Labour will work with the most fanatically pro-EU Tory and Lib Dem MPs to erect six new hurdles to the Withdrawal Bill’s further progress.
Writing in the Sunday papers — where Labour’s new EU policy announcements appear to be made these days — he demanded that the House of Commons must have a right of veto over any exit deal. This would enable the pro-EU majority of MPs to sabotage Britain’s withdrawal if they believe they can get away with it.
Second, he wants Prime Minister Theresa May’s request for a two-year transition period to be written into the Withdrawal Bill.
This would give further incentive to Starmer’s allies in Brussels to drive the hardest deal possible. EU Commission president and puppeteer Jean-Claude Juncker and main marionette Michel Barnier will know that British government refusal to pay an extortionate divorce fee or accept the continuing jurisdiction of the EU Court of Justice could lead to the Withdrawal Bill’s defeat.
Like most of the Tory Cabinet and Labour shadow cabinet, EU chiefs would prefer to keep Britain in the EU or, at the very least, enmeshed for as long as possible in the pro-big business EU single market and its rules and institutions.
Third, Starmer wants a “completely different approach” to how British governments can amend EU law retained after withdrawal. That is vague enough for MPs and lords to play havoc in a technically complex area.
Fourth, there should be a legislative guarantee that workers’ and consumers’ rights and environmental standards are not diluted after leaving the EU. In addition to the problem of defining what constitutes a dilution, no government has ever tied its own hands in law over large areas of future policy.
By far the best protection against regressive measures is a combination of mass action, parliamentary opposition and the election of a left-led Labour government.
Fifth, the shadow Brexit secretary wants powers repatriated from the EU to go directly to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh National Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly in their respective areas of devolution.
This is wholly desirable and should be asserted in principle in an amendment to the Withdrawal Bill. However, any attempt to spell out the detail now would provide a field day for the SNP and other pro-EU MPs as they challenge almost every prerogative reserved for Westminster.
Sixth, the demand is raised to incorporate the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights into the Withdrawal Bill.
This is despite the fact that the charter makes frequent references to EU membership and legislation that will no longer apply post-Brexit (including the commitment to “an ever greater union”).
Even the capitalist free market “right” of all EU citizens to work, establish businesses and provide services wherever they choose applies only to EU member states.
All the EU Charter’s worthy freedoms and rights can already be found either in domestic law or in UN and European conventions to which Britain is a signatory.
Insisting that all six of Starmer’s demands must be met for Labour to support the Withdrawal Bill is disingenuous and, potentially, electorally disastrous.