Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay has been urged to “set the record straight” on Boris Johnson’s claims about the EU withdrawal process.
Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer labelled the Tory leadership contender’s statements on exiting the EU “misleading” and “not based in reality”.
He has called on Mr Barclay to clarify what is and is not possible in the negotiations, including on tariffs, the Irish border and a transition period.
Sir Keir wrote to Mr Barclay ahead of Brexit questions in the House of Commons on Thursday, claiming the next PM is set to inherit the “biggest political crisis this country has faced in recent history”.
He told Mr Barclay: “If we are to break the deadlock, the next prime minister will need to have a credible plan and be honest with the British public about the difficult choices ahead.
“However over recent days, Boris Johnson, who you are supporting in the Tory leadership contest, has made a number of misleading claims about the Withdrawal Agreement and about what can be achieved in the negotiations before October.”
Speaking in the Commons during Brexit questions, Sir Keir asked Mr Barclay to make clear it is “simply not possible” to guarantee no tariffs under a no-deal Brexit – and to “scotch the nonsense spouted” about GATT 24.
He added Mr Barclay should make clear technological solutions currently do not exist in relation to the Northern Ireland border, and also that the UK cannot “cherry pick” the Withdrawal Agreement.
Mr Barclay, on GATT 24, replied: “He will know there’s a difference between what is possible and what he may argue is probable or not, but it is a distinction which the (Tory leadership) candidates have addressed.”
He said there was an “inconsistency” in Sir Keir’s remarks on “cherry-picking”, noting the Government has been seeking a side deal on citizens’ rights with the EU – something which has cross-party support.
On technology, Mr Barclay said: “He will know the EU themselves in the Strasbourg statement have accepted technology has a role to play on the border – indeed, they stand ready to work with us as soon as the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified.
“The thing that is getting in the way of that is the consistent opposition of the party opposite to the Withdrawal Agreement, and that is because – notwithstanding the manifesto on which he stood – the true position of (Sir Keir) is to Remain, and that is what his letter didn’t say and that’s what he means.”
Sir Keir asked: “Can the Secretary of State answer this with a simple yes or no – can the UK secure an implementation period without a Withdrawal Agreement? Yes or no?”
Mr Barclay replied: “As (Sir Keir) knows the implementation period was a part of the Withdrawal Agreement, which he himself has voted against.”