Financial Times

May makes U-turn and agrees to Brexit white paper

by Jim Pickard and George Parker, Financial Times

January 26, 2017 | 1:25 pm
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No 10 says document will be separate from Article 50 legislation and based on prime minister’s Lancaster House speech

Theresa May has bowed to pressure from Labour, the Scottish nationalists and her own backbenchers to publish a white paper setting out the government’s plans for Brexit in greater detail.

At prime minister’s questions yesterday, Mrs May said she accepted there was an “appetite” for a document setting out the government’s approach. “I can confirm to the House that the plan will be set out in a white paper,” she said.

The prime minister’s spokeswoman later emphasised that the white paper was “a separate issue” to the forthcoming Article 50 legislation and refused to say whether it would be published before the latter became law, an event likely to take place in March.

The eventual white paper is unlikely to differ greatly from Mrs May’s speech last week at Lancaster House. The spokeswoman said: “It is going to be the government plan for Brexit. The prime minister has already set out the plan.”

Mrs May had been asked by Conservative MP Chris Philp whether she should reconsider her previous resistance to publishing a white paper. “My honourable friend raises the question of parliamentary scrutiny,” she said. “I have been clear . . . that we will ensure that parliament has every opportunity to provide that scrutiny.”

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leader, welcomed the U-turn but complained that Mrs May had not given clarity on the timing of the new document. Keir Starmer, shadow Brexit secretary, said Mrs May “now needs to confirm that this white paper will be published in time to inform the Article 50 process, and that it will clear up the inconsistencies, gaps and risks outlined in her speech”.

Mrs May’s move came after Europhile Conservative MPs – including former ministers Nicky Morgan, Dominic Grieve and Ken Clarke – stepped up the pressure for more detail on the government’s negotiating position. The cross-party Brexit committee had called for a white paper in a report this month.

Mrs May had been vulnerable to a potential defeat if a hard core of Remain-voting Tory MPs had joined forces with Labour over the issue.

The white paper announcement came as the government prepared to publish the legislation to trigger departure from the EU; the Article 50 bill will be published today in the form of a concise document that will be hard to amend.

Ministers were forced to seek the consent of parliament over leaving the EU after suffering a defeat in the Supreme Court on Tuesday with the ruling that the government could not unilaterally trigger an exit. The prime minister wants to push the Article 50 bill through the Commons and Lords by the middle of March, allowing her to maintain her original timetable of triggering the EU departure by the end of that month.

Aides say Mrs May remains confident she will ultimately win parliamentary backing. Most MPs and peers from the opposition Labour party will not try to frustrate last year’s referendum vote to leave the EU.

Labour divisions over Europe are likely to dominate debate in the coming weeks, with a sizeable minority of pro-EU Labour MPs expected to vote against triggering Article 50.

However, a coalition of parliament’s 56 Scottish National party MPs, nine Liberal Democrats and perhaps 50 pro-EU Labour rebels would not be enough to stop the process of leaving the EU. Mr Clarke, a former chancellor, is expected to be the only Conservative to vote against the bill.

David Lidington, Commons leader, will set out the timescale for the Article 50 bill at the government’s weekly business session today. The draft bill will be published. The first debate is likely to be held on Tuesday or Wednesday next week, lasting one or two days.

At committee stage the number of amendments could be substantial and will probably take up most of the debate time. An amended bill then goes to the report stage before MPs get a final chance for debate at the third reading before a vote.

The bill then goes through the same stages in the Lords, including the opportunity for further amendments, before returning to the Commons, where the Lords’ amendments are considered.

Both houses must agree on the exact wording of the bill. A bill may go back and forth indefinitely, forcing government compromises.

 

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by Jim Pickard and George Parker, Financial Times

January 26, 2017 | 1:25 pm
12893  |   93   |   0  |   Start Conversation

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