independent– Sir Keir Starmer is facing a growing backlash over his decision to back Boris Johnson’s Brexit trade deal, as a series of Labour figures including John McDonnell urged MPs not to vote for the “rotten” agreement.
In a statement, the former shadow chancellor alongside colleagues and campaign groups, said the opposition risked “falling into a trap” if it rallied around the UK-EU trade deal, warning: “We are witnessing an act of vandalism against our livelihoods”.
Writing in The Independent, however, the shadow cabinet minister Rachel Reeves said the agreement was a “platform to build on”, insisting that Labour could improve if elected to office at the 2024 general election.
After the prime minister struck an eleventh-hour agreement with Brussels on Christmas Eve, Sir Keir said Labour would back what he branded a “thin” deal, arguing the alternative was to risk enabling a no-deal Brexit at the end of the transition period in just two days.
The statement, urging parliamentarians not to back the deal, has been signed by MPs Clive Lewis and Ben Bradshaw, alongside Lord Adonis and the former national coordinator of Momentum, Laura Parker.
Organised by left-wing campaigning organisations Another Europe is Possible and Labour for a Socialist Europe, it has also attracted the support of former MPs Alan Simpson, John Austin, Sandy Martin, and Anna Turley, who lost her Redcar seat to the Conservatives at the 2019 general election.
It states: “The deal is a substantial downgrade of the UK’s relationship with the EU, and is designed to open the door to rampant economic deregulation – a loss of rights and protections for workers, the environment, food standards and many other areas of life.
“Future trade deals could now entrench the privatisation of the NHS and other public services. We are witnessing an act of vandalism against our livelihoods, our rights and our horizons.”
While admitting it was a “foregone conclusion” the deal would pass parliament as MPs are recalled from their Christmas break on Wednesday, the statement added: “This deal will not ‘get Brexit done’: negotiations over trade and regulatory frameworks will go on and on for years to come.
“The vital task is now opposition: proper parliamentary scrutiny of this and all future trade deals, and the setting out of an alternative future in which we not only regain the rights and jobs and we have lost, but become a better and more equal society.
“The task gets harder if opposition parties fall into the trap of rallying around this rotten deal.
“We call on Labour, the labour movement and other opposition parties not to support the Tories’ Brexit deal when it is put to a vote in the House of Commons.”
Sir Keir has also faced criticism for offering Labour’s support on Christmas Eve – ahead of the publication of the UK-EU agreement spanning over 1,255 pages.
It is expected the European Research Group (ERG) of Brexit supporting Conservative MPs will deliver its verdict on the prime minister’s deal on Tuesday, after a meeting of lawyers led by the veteran Eurosceptic MP Sir Bill Cash.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the SNP have already said they will oppose the deal, but given Labour’s backing for the agreement, the vote on Wednesday is expected to pass comfortably in the House of Commons.