Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab faced a barrage of criticism on the first day of the new parliamentary term at Westminster, with MPs across the chamber telling him the UK government’s negotiation strategy was a failure and must be abandoned.
Two former Tory ministers warned the Prime Minister to “chuck Chequers now” as the Tory revolt against Theresa May’s plan to keep the UK in the European single market for goods was renewed after the summer recess.
And Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer told Mr Raab the plan was a “fudge” as he warned “something is going to have to give”.
There was also pressure on Labour over the party’s resistance to a second referendum on EU membership after one of the UK’s biggest unions called for a public vote on the final Brexit deal.
The GMB, which has 620,000 members, said there was widespread support for the public to have a say on the final outcome of negotiations.
In a message to members, GMB general secretary Tim Roache said he respected the result of the referendum, but added it was “infuriating” to be “sitting on the sidelines watching the mess this government is making of Brexit”.
“As trade unionists, when we negotiate a pay deal with an employer, we go back to our members and ask them if they’re happy with it,” Mr Roache said. “That’s what people deserve now because the promises that were made during the referendum campaign are simply not the reality we are facing.”
Calls for a new vote on EU membership were also boosted by a study suggesting 1.6 million more voters would back Remain today compared with the 2016 referendum.
Analysis commissioned by the Best for Britain and Hope not Hate campaign groups points to a shift towards Remain in 93 per cent of the 632 constituencies in England, Scotland and Wales, with 112 seats switching from majority Leave to Remain.
All 59 Westminster Scottish constituencies now back staying in the EU, according to the research that looked at two YouGov polls involving a total of more than 15,000 people, taken before and after the release of Mrs May’s Chequers plan.
Some 341 seats in Britain now have a majority to stay within the EU against 291 wanting to Leave.
In Parliament, MPs from both sides of the Commons pointed to comments from the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier over the weekend in which he lashed out at the Chequers plan as “insane”, “illegal” and an “invitation to fraud”.
Labour’s Hilary Benn, chairman of the Exiting the European Union Committee, said there had been an “emphatic rejection of the central plank of the Chequers proposal” from Mr Barnier.
And Tory grandee Sir Christopher Chope warned the Brexit Secretary against “self-delusion”, saying: “[Mr Barnier] understands perfectly what is involved in the Chequers arrangements and he rejects without any qualification the facilitated customs arrangements and also the common rule book and so why doesn’t [Mr Raab] accept his get-out clause and chuck Chequers now?”
Mr Raab responded, saying the UK wasn’t going to “roll over for Brussels”.
“We’re going to explain them, yes, to Michel Barnier, to answer the questions – the practical and others that he’s raised,” Mr Raab said.
Mr Starmer said the government was “in a real fix” over Brexit, without sufficient support in the Commons. He said Mr Raab had “no idea how it will mitigate the impact of no deal when it comes to Northern Ireland”.
“The government has got six weeks to get this right – more of the same will not do,” the shadow Brexit secretary said.
Mr Raab hit back: “The Labour Party have shown that they would roll over in Brussels and fail to stand up for this country.”
In the face of growing warnings that time is running out, Mr Raab insisted that agreement with Brussels was “within our grasp” and pledged the UK “will be ready for Brexit, deal or no deal”.