LONDON (AFP) – Prime Minister Theresa May’s government published its blueprint for Brexit on Thursday (Feb 2) after winning a first parliamentary vote on a Bill that would empower her to start pulling Britain out of the EU.
London is aiming for a “new, positive and constructive partnership between Britain and the European Union that works in our mutual interest”, Brexit minister David Davis said as he launched the 77-page document in parliament.
The plan says Britain will aim to create a new mechanism to settle trade disputes once it leaves the European Union and pass new immigration and customs laws.
The blueprint set out in writing the 12 negotiating objectives May laid down in a landmark speech last month.
It outlined Britain’s aims as May prepares to begin the process of officially quitting the EU following last June’s historic referendum vote.
The “White Paper”, which came a day after the government comfortably won a first vote on triggering the start of divorce negotiations, also said Britain will pull out of the single market in order to control immigration from the EU, which ran at 284,000 in the year to June 2016.
Britain will look to strike a new customs agreement with Brussels, enabling it to forge its own trade deals with the rest of the world, it said.
Davis said Britain wanted to build a strong, alternative partnership with Brussels.
“This government will make no attempt to remain in the EU by the backdoor, nor will we hold a second referendum on membership,” the document says.
“Instead, the strategic partnership which we seek will underpin free trade between the UK and EU... as well as the closest possible cooperation on key issues like security, foreign policy and science and technology.” .
A fortnight ago, May outlined her exit strategy in a speech to foreign ambassadors.
She warned Britain would feel free to set competitive tax rates if it cannot strike a free trade deal with the EU.
MPs on Wednesday approved the first stage of a Bill for triggering Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, which would fire the starting gun on two years of exit negotiations.
May wants to deploy Article 50 by the end of March, so the legislation process is going through parliament at speed.
After an emotional debate on Wednesday, MPs voted by a margin of 498 to 114 in the first Brexit-related vote in parliament’s lower House of Commons.
Scottish nationalists and rebels from the main opposition Labour Party made up the bulk of the 114.
Many pro-EU MPs voiced their anguish at voting against their own deeply-held beliefs to pass the Bill, which is expected to receive final approval by the House of Lords next month.
One opposition MP was heard shouting “Suicide!” as the result of the vote was announced in the chamber.
The Times newspaper said May was facing a revolt from backbenchers in her centre-right Conservative Party unless she guarantees the right of more than three million EU citizens living in Britain to stay.
The premier wants the reciprocal rights of Britons in Europe guaranteed.
In parliament, Davis said: “I’m not going to be throwing people out of Britain.
“We owe a moral responsibility, a moral debt, to the EU nationals here,” he said, adding that the same extended to British citizens abroad, “and we will protect both”.
Opposition MPs blasted Davis for publishing the document only minutes before they could question him on it in parliament.
Dozens of amendments are scheduled for debate over three days in the House of Commons from Monday.
The Bill will then move to the upper House of Lords for debate from Feb 20, with the government hoping for their approval by March 7.
But the Bill could be delayed in the Lords, where the Conservatives do not have a majority – and where the unelected peers have no fear of a voter backlash.