Labour’s promise to “get Brexit sorted” within six months of winning power has been dismissed as “fairy tale politics” by the Conservatives in the first clash of the election campaign on the issue.
Jeremy Corbyn is vowing to get a better deal within three months and then give the public the final say of whether to leave or remain in another referendum.
He will claim Boris Johnson’s own deal will lead to “Thatcherism on steroids”.
But the Tories said Labour’s plan would result in “paralysing uncertainty”.
However, the Tories’ commitment to negotiate a new free trade deal with the EU in just over a year is also coming under scrutiny.
It took seven years for the EU to conclude a free trade deal with Canada, an agreement which many Brexiteers see as a template for the UK. Any deal would need to be agreed by all 27 remaining EU states before it could come into force.
Michael Gove, the minister in charge of Brexit planning, said a majority Conservative government would “absolutely not” extend the transition period after the UK’s departure from the EU – under Mr Johnson’s deal it is due to end at the start of 2021.
Pressed on whether this could ultimately lead to a no-deal exit – with the UK defaulting to World Trade Organisation rules – if no free trade deal could be agreed by that point, he pointed out that Mr Johnson had been able to secure major changes to the current withdrawal agreement in “just 90 days”.
The political parties are ramping up their election campaigning, ahead of the official start to the five-week campaign period at just after midnight on Wednesday.
Brexit is set to be a crucial issue when voters go to the polls on 12 December, with Mr Johnson insisting the UK will leave in January if he wins power.
‘Race to the bottom’
But in a speech in the Essex city of Harlow, a target seat for Labour, Mr Corbyn will accuse Mr Johnson of seeking to “hijack Brexit to sell out the NHS” to US firms in a future trade deal.
The PM’s agreement with the EU could see an extra £500m a week spent on buying medicines, he will claim, as well as leading to a “race to the bottom” on workers’ rights and product standards.
The BBC’s Reality Check correspondent Chris Morris said the £500m figure was a theoretical worst-case scenario in which the prices of all medicines used in the NHS were the same as the prices of those medicines in the US.
However, he said in practice that was highly unlikely – although there was no question US pharmaceutical companies would lobby aggressively for greater access to the NHS, and the ability to set higher prices.
“Given the chance, they’ll slash food standards to US levels where ‘acceptable levels’ of rat hairs in paprika and maggots in orange juice are allowed,” he will claim.
An incoming Labour government, he will say, would start negotiating a “sensible” Brexit deal in January and then hold a referendum by July.
The party has not said whether it would back Leave or Remain, but Mr Corbyn will promise to “immediately carry out” the decision made by the public.
He recently said debate over the party’s Brexit policy – which has divided Labour and resulted in years of infighting – was now over and the party’s different factions must unite.
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer told the BBC Labour was “sitting in the middle” between the Tories’ hard Brexit and the Lib Dems’ policy of cancelling Brexit altogether.
He said a new deal with the EU which protected manufacturing and ensured frictionless trade between Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the rest of Britain could be done “swiftly” because “much of the hard work” had already been done over the past three years.
But Mr Johnson said it was incredible that Mr Corbyn could not say whether he would back any Leave deal he negotiated in another referendum.
“For months you have refused to say what sort of ‘deal’ you want with the EU,” he wrote in letter to the Labour leader,
“Now the time has come for you to come clean, and explain what your plan really is.”
And Mr Gove suggested Mr Corbyn was incapable of negotiating a new Brexit deal in the way Mr Johnson had done.
“The difference between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn is the difference between a Premiership goal scorer and someone who is, I’m afraid, a non-league player.”
“It is a fairy tale if you imagine Jeremy Corbyn can get Brexit done. His policy on Brexit has been constructed by a terminally weak leader in order to paper over the cracks in his party.”
The Lib Dems and the SNP, who both want the UK to remain in the EU, will also be campaigning on the issue later.
Stopping Brexit will deliver a £50bn “Remain bonus” for public services over the next five years, Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson will say.
And SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon will claim that Scottish voters have the chance to escape from the “lost decade” Brexit risks by backing her party.