Brexit anxieties peak as UK minsters weigh in on potential deal

Lucy Harley-McKeown
·2 min read
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer speaks during a PM's statement session on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the House of Commons, in London, Britain September 22, 2020. UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. IMAGE MUST NOT BE ALTERED
Members of Keir Starmer’s top team have indicated the party should abstain from voting on Brexit rather than push through what many see to be a “thin” trade agreement, according to the newspaper. UK Photo: Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via Reuters

Anxieties about reaching a Brexit trade deal are reaching a fever-pitch as the deadline looms, with ministers across party lines weighing in on the process.

Reports in The Sunday Times this morning suggest that leader of the opposition Labour party Keir Starmer is facing a revolt over the backing of any deal prime minister Boris Johnson is able to secure.

Members of Starmer’s top team have indicated the party should abstain from voting rather than push through what many see to be a “thin” trade agreement, according to the newspaper.

Shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry was among ministers that opposed the move, while David Lammy, Louise Haigh and Bridget Phillipson all expressed reservations.

Starmer argued that backing a deal would reinforce Labour support in leave-voting areas.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has also voiced his reservations in the press about backing a bad deal.

He said: “Certainly, it would be preferable to have a deal,” touting the progress the Conservative negotiations team has made.

He added: “The major impact on our economy is the coronavirus. It’s absolutely not (a question of doing) a deal at any price.

“If we don’t get a deal, why is that? It is because they are refusing to compromise on what are some completely reasonable and very transparent principles that we’ve laid out from the beginning. We are not asking for ... super-special treatment.”

Although Britain left the EU in January, the post-Brexit transition period ends on 31 December. If no agreement is made, trade will default to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

Talks have stalled again after an outbreak of COVID-19 in the EU negotiating team last week.

READ MORE: Business set for more uncertainty as tiered lockdowns loom for England

The jitters come following positive news in the UK and Canada’s trading relationship. Over the weekend the pair said they have agreed to continue trading under the same terms under the current European Union agreement after the Brexit transition period ends.

The government said the deal paves the way for talks to begin next year for a new comprehensive agreement with Canada, which has been touted as one of the benefits of the UK leaving the EU.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson and Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau sealed the “agreement in principle” in a video call on Saturday, the Department for International Trade (DIT) said.

The deal “in principle” locks in certainty for UK businesses trading goods and services with Canada worth £20bn ($26.6bn).

Watch: What happens if no Brexit deal is struck?