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The Telegraph

Labour will be ‘putting two fingers up’ to voters if it fails to back Brexit deal, Sir Keir Starmer warned

Labour will be putting “two fingers up to voters” if it refuses to back a Brexit trade deal, Sir Keir Starmer has been warned, as a prominent Remainer MP said they would vote for it. Amid splits at the top of the party on whether to withhold support for an agreement, shadow business minister Lucy Powell suggested Labour would struggle to win back voters in “Red Wall” seats if it attempted to abstain. Arguing that a “skinny deal” could be “built on” in future, Ms Powell added that it was better than no deal – which she said would be a “catastrophe” – and was therefore “quite hard for us to oppose”. Echoing her concerns, Chris Bryant MP, a staunch Europhile, revealed he intended to back the deal and urged his colleagues to do the same. Writing for The Telegraph, the former foreign minister said that even if Boris Johnson failed to strike the “comprehensive deal we were promised” the alternative of no trade deal would be “even worse.” While Sir Keir has hinted he intends to back a deal, Anneliese Dodds, the shadow chancellor, is said to be one of several shadow cabinet ministers who believe Labour should abstain to avoid being blamed for any economic fallout. Other sceptics include shadow trade secretary Emily Thornberry and shadow justice secretary David Lammy, both prominent remainers, as well as shadow Scotland secretary Ian Murray. On Friday evening Lord Kinnock, the former Labour leader, also waded into the row, telling peers that backing the deal would be politically “lethal” for the party. “We must abstain and explain that this is the rational course when faced with a damaging ‘yes’ and a disastrous ‘no’,” he wrote in a private Whatsapp group. However, Ms Powell, who helped lead a review into last year’s crushing election defeat, argued that it was better to be “strong” than refusing to take a position either way. “It’s not just about Brexit, although Brexit was a big symbolic expression of Labour losing touch with its traditional voter base,” she told Huffington Post. “And we can’t keep putting two fingers up to people if we want them to vote for us again and support us and be part of the agenda that we want for the future.” According to Labour insiders, Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, and Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, are also in favour of a deal. Mr Bryant, the MP for Rhondda in Wales, warned that a no deal exit would lead to tariffs on Welsh lamb that would make the meat unaffordable in the EU, where half is sold at present. He also voiced alarm about the security implications of leaving without a deal, adding: “If the Prime Minister does what I expect him to do, namely negotiate some kind of minimalist trade deal with the EU at the very last minute – I expect I will vote for it and I would encourage all my Labour colleagues to do the same.” enior Labour source told The Telegraph a final position was likely to be hammered out over the next few days, adding that the party would need to have come to “collective decision” either before or soon after any deal is struck. Allies of Sir Keir allies have also been frustrated by leaks suggesting the shadow cabinet is divided and are determined to prevent a repeat of the public rows that plagued Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. They believe they are an attempt by advocates of an abstention to bounce Sir Keir into sitting on the fence. While they insist no position has been reached, they have warned that there will be no room for dissent on the frontbench once a decision has been taken. However, a number of shadow cabinet figures believe that proponents of a deal have become too preoccupied on the Red Wall rather than focussing on the issues that will define the next four years. One source told The Telegraph that some in the party appeared to be trying to “refight the last election” rather than thinking of the “bigger picture.”

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