Sir Keir Starmer has urged Boris Johnson not to “reopen old wounds” and to get a trade deal with the EU as he criticised the Government’s admission it could break international law over Brexit as “wrong”.
The Labour leader called on the Prime Minister on Tuesday to return his attention to the coronavirus pandemic by ensuring negotiations with Brussels are successful.
Sir Keir’s message came on a day Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis admitted the Government’s plan to over-ride elements of Mr Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement with Brussels would breach international law.
The head of the Government Legal Department, Sir Jonathan Jones, resigned amid reports he was “very unhappy” with the proposal.
During a series of broadcast interviews, Sir Keir told Channel 5 News: “What I would say to the Government is don’t reopen old wounds, get a deal, move on and concentrate on defeating this virus.”
He criticised the plan to introduce new legislation over-riding elements of the Withdrawal Agreement and suggested Mr Johnson could be using the proposal as a distraction.
He told Sky News: “What the Government is proposing is wrong, I think that’s plain for everybody to see. But we need to step back here and focus on getting a deal.
“There’s certainly a case to be made that this is all just being used as leverage in the negotiations and that’s wrong in principle.
“Getting a deal is in the national interest, that’s what the public want, that’s what they were promised. The outstanding issues are not difficult, they can be resolved.
“A deal can be struck in the next few weeks, the issues outstanding are not unsurmountable. To have no deal would be a failure of negotiation, a failure that has to be owned by the Prime Minister.”
He said he was not working with Conservative MPs riled by the proposal in order to table an amendment and block the move in a parliamentary manoeuvre.
He told Sky News: “I’ve not been talking cross-party on this issue because I’m very focused on the national interest which is getting a deal.”
Sir Keir said he knew Sir Jonathan during his career as a lawyer, vouched for him as a professional and said he would not have resigned “lightly”.
The Labour leader told Sky: “Jonathan is a first-class lawyer who has given excellent advice over the years and I’m absolutely sure he wouldn’t have done this lightly.
“I haven’t spoken to him but I have known him for many years.”
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