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Tories accuse Labour of recklessness over opposition to Brexit Repeal Bill

Downing Street has said Britain is ready to “intensify” talks with the EU.

Parliament is set for a dramatic clash over Brexit after Labour announced its MPs will vote against the key piece of legislation taking Britain out of the European Union.

Jeremy Corbyn’s party will hope its decision to oppose the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill at second reading will split the Conservatives when it comes to a vote on Monday.

But Labour was accused of recklessness by Tories, who said failure to get the bill through Parliament would risk a chaotic Brexit at the point of withdrawal in 2019.

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(Yui Mok/PA)

The row blew up as Brexit Secretary David Davis briefed the House of Commons on the progress of negotiations in Brussels, which he said had been “tough” but had made “significant steps forward” on issues like citizens’ rights and the Irish border.

Mr Davis confirmed that the UK was ready to step up the tempo of talks and urged EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier to show more “imagination and flexibility”, particularly over Britain’s exit bill, where the two sides took “very different legal stances”.

But he made clear that he expected the row over money to continue right to the end of the two-year negotiation period.

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Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg. (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Prominent Tory backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg told the Commons that the EU’s proposal for a financial settlement estimated at £50-£80 billion amounted to a “demand for money with menaces” which he branded “ridiculous”.

But Mr Davis was careful to avoid repeating International Trade Secretary Liam Fox’s accusation of EU “blackmail”, describing it instead as “a pressure tactic to make us pay”.

The Brexit Secretary was jeered by Labour MPs as he told the Commons: “Nobody has ever pretended this would be simple or easy.

“We’ve always said this negotiation would be tough, complex and at times confrontational. So it has proved.”

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Labour's shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer. (Nick Ansell/PA)

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer reminded him that Dr Fox had said striking an agreement with the EU would be “one of the easiest deals in human history”, while Mr Davis himself predicted that free trade deals covering an area massively greater than the EU would be in place by the time of withdrawal.

Sir Keir called on the Government to drop some of Mrs May’s “deeply flawed red lines” in the negotiations, including her insistence that Britain will no longer be subject to the European Court of Justice after Brexit.

It had become clear that the PM’s red lines were “part of the problem”, and it was “fantasy” to believe that a deep and comprehensive trade deal could be forged while she stuck to them, he said.

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Protesters wearing European Union flag masks. (Victoria Jones/PA)

“We are reaching the stage of negotiations where fantasy meets brutal reality,” said Sir Keir.

“Too many promises have been made about Brexit which can’t be kept.”

Labour’s announcement that it will oppose the EU (Withdrawal) Bill at the first stage of its passage through the Commons came after a meeting of the shadow cabinet on Tuesday morning.

A party spokesman said: “Labour fully respects the democratic decision to leave the European Union, voted to trigger Article 50 and backs a jobs-first Brexit with full tariff-free access to the European single market.

“But as democrats we cannot vote for a bill that unamended would let Government ministers grab powers from Parliament to slash people’s rights at work and reduce protection for consumers and the environment.

“Parliament has already voted to leave the European Union. But the Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill would allow Conservative ministers to set vital terms on a whim, including of Britain’s exit payment, without democratic scrutiny.”

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