Labour frontbencher Keir Starmer vowed to prevent a no-deal Brexit during his keynote speech at the Co-op Party’s annual conference in Glasgow this morning.
But the shadow secretary for exiting the EU said it was also important to “win the political battle” in the general election that follows – arguing that the country faces a choice between the values of Europe or Donald Trump’s America.
He said the last three Conservative leaders have been “reckless with our country … and Boris Johnson is the most dangerous of the three.
“He has no moral compass and no idea of where he is going. If a no deal Brexit is what it takes to save his skin, that is what he will do.”
Sir Keir warned that a no deal Brexit would bring a recession – and accused the Conservatives of being “blind” to the pain and poverty this would cause.
“This is a choice,” he added, “not a catastrophe that a country can’t avoid … This is a Tory political choice, not a necessity.”
He said the prime minster was legally bound to seek an extension if he doesn’t get a Brexit deal – and if he tries to avoid this, “we will force it through the courts … whatever it takes we will prevent a no deal Brexit.”
Sir Keir said the issue needs to be “put back to the people” in the form of a referendum choice between a negotated deal and remain, and told Co-op Party delegates: “I know this party was ahead of Labour on this. You believe too many decisions are made by too few people.”
He said Mr Johnson was pursuing Brexit to ditch the “common standards” of the EU which have created a level playing field and “protected our workers, our environment, our people … to move away from this is a slippery slope to deregulation.”
The real battle, added Sir Keir, “is about the future direction of travel of this country”, between a US economic model with no NHS and rife inequality, and the progressive values envisioned by the Co-op Party, whose conference this year is themed “building a fairer future”.
With life expectancy in the UK falling and children facing a poorer prospects than those of their parents, Sir Keir said a radical programme for change is needed to solve the grievances underlying the Brexit vote.
“Common ownership has to be at the heart of our economy,” he said, “giving working people a stake in their workplace”.
Calling on delegates to take active part in Labour’s election fight, he added: “If we hold Johnson’s feet to the fire and prevent no deal Brexit… then we must go on to win the battle of politics because next election determines future direction of this country.”