A Leave-supporting Labour MP has called on Theresa May to form a cross-party “Brexit Cabinet” in the spirit of Britain’s government during the Second World War.
Speaking as MPs began their line-by-line scrutiny of the EU Withdrawal Bill, Frank Field urged the Prime Minister to follow the example of Winston Churchill in the 1940s.
Expressing his concern at the Government’s handling of Brexit, the former Labour minister claimed there has not been “the sense of importance, or drive, or coherence that this issue merits”.
Having branded himself as a “reluctant Brexiteer”, Mr Field added: “Anyone serious about comparing this historic event to us fighting for survival in World War Two would have followed the move that Churchill made once he took over from [Neville] Chamberlain.
“He would have moved from the ramshackle way of existing institutions and he established a war cabinet.
“I believe… we need a Brexit cabinet – small, with the offer to the Opposition to be on it, as in war time which Mr [Clement] Attlee, Mr [Arthur] Greenwood accepted – that we actually try and have a national interest.”
Mr Field spoke as he introduced his amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill, which is designed to convert EU legislation into UK law by March 2019.
The veteran Birkenhead MP wants an exit date of 30 March 2019 included in the bill, which is an hour later than the Government’s amendment proposing an exit date of 11pm on 29 March, 2019.
Mr Field urged MPs to support his date, suggesting it means the UK would leave the EU “on British time”, rather than a date that suits Brussels.
He said: “That’s our choice, it’s about the freedom, a little freedom, the beginnings of freedom that we hope will flow – with difficulties of course – by actually setting us on the course of leaving the EU.”
During the debate, Remain-supporting Conservative backbenchers criticised the Government’s amendment, with former chancellor Ken Clarke branding it “utterly foolish” and “silly”.
Ex-attorney-general Dominic Grieve also rejected the “very strange” amendment, adding: “It seems to me to fetter the Government, to add nothing to the strength of the Government’s negotiating position, and in fact potentially to create a very great problem that could be brought back to visit on us at a later stage.”
Earlier, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer demanded the Government drop their own proposed exit date, which was announced at the weekend, from the bill.
Branding the amendment a “desperate gimmick” by the Government, Sir Keir said: “The Government’s amendments to their own Bill would stand in the way of an orderly transition and increase the chance of Britain crashing out of Europe without an agreement.
“Theresa May should stop pandering to the ‘no deal’ enthusiasts in her own party and withdraw these amendments. If not, Labour will vote against them to support our own amendments and guarantee a transition that protects jobs and living standards.”