Labour to push for legal block on a hard NI border

Labour has pledged to try and push through changes to Brexit legislation that would make a return to a hard border in Northern Ireland impossible.

The party's shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer has insisted such a legal commitment is needed to prevent any kind of "checks, controls or physical infrastructure" at the border.

In a speech in Birmingham as the countdown to Brexit approaches the one-year mark, Sir Keir said an amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill was needed because: "This would put in place a legal commitment preventing a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic."

The shadow Brexit secretary, who worked in Northern Ireland for five years, said Labour changes to the Bill would seek to ensure there can be no drop in North-South co-operation in Ireland across the full range of political, economic, security or agricultural areas.

Sir Keir said: "We do not do this lightly. I know from my time in Northern Ireland that this is not an issue to play party politics on, or to divide the House unnecessarily.

"This amendment is born of necessity. Because of the Government's failure to advance a credible solution in Northern Ireland."

Sir Keir said Labour would also try to rewrite the Government's Brexit legislation to prevent the UK leaving the EU without a deal if Parliament rejects any agreement Theresa May strikes with Brussels.

The Opposition hopes to build a coalition of peers and MPs to reject the "take it or leave it" approach on offer from ministers which would see a vote against the final agreement interpreted as a decision to back a "no deal" Brexit.

Sir Keir said: "If Parliament rejects the Prime Minister's deal, that cannot give licence to her, or the extreme Brexiteers in her party, to allow the UK to crash out without an agreement.

"That would be the worst of all possible worlds.

"That is why in the coming days, and working with others in the Lords and the Commons, Labour will ensure that an amendment is tabled to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill to strengthen the terms of Parliament's meaningful vote.

"Should the Prime Minister's deal be defeated, it must be for Parliament to say what happens next, not the executive.

"Our amendment would make it clear that, should the Prime Minister's deal be defeated, it must be for Parliament to say what happens next, not the executive."

Under the plan, if Parliament rejects the deal, MPs would vote on a Commons motion instructing the Government what to do next.

Labour's position on Brexit has come under scrutiny following Owen Smith's dismissal from the shadow cabinet after calling for a second referendum.

The party has not definitively ruled out calling for a second public vote although deputy leader Tom Watson said it was "highly unlikely" that Labour would call for another referendum.

Sir Keir said Labour would not dictate what Parliament should instruct if the Government's Brexit deal is rejected.

However, he added: "Labour's preference in that scenario is clear: the Government should go back to the negotiating table and work towards securing a deal that works for Britain.

"This would provide a safety valve in the Brexit process to safeguard jobs and the economy.

"It would remove the possibility of a no vote leading to a no deal.

"It would bring back control to Parliament."