May promises White Paper on Britain's Brexit plan

PM says Parliament will get to debate her proposals on withdrawal from the EU

LONDON • Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday said she would publish her plan for Britain's exit from the European Union in a formal White Paper to allow Parliament to scrutinise it.

The government will allow proper debate of the strategy outlined in her speech last week, Mrs May told lawmakers in Parliament.

"I have been clear, as have senior ministers, that we'll ensure Parliament has every opportunity to provide scrutiny," Mrs May said.

"I recognise there's an appetite to see that plan set out in a White Paper. I can confirm to the House that our plan will be set out in a White Paper published to this House."

Last week, Mrs May said Britain would quit the EU's single market when it leaves the union, charting a course for a clean break with the world's largest trading bloc.

A White Paper could limit her room to manoeuvre in the talks even if lawmakers prove unable to use their new-found strength to soften her strategy.

Last week, Mrs May said Britain would quit the EU's single market when it leaves the union, charting a course for a clean break with the world's largest trading bloc. A White Paper could limit her room to manoeuvre in the talks even if lawmakers prove unable to use their new-found strength to soften her strategy.

The Institute for Government, a think-tank, said there were no rules about what must be included in a White Paper, and that any such document could simply repeat the contents of Mrs May's speech.

The British Premier has sought to bypass Parliament in triggering Brexit, appealing against a High Court ruling that required her to seek a vote among lawmakers before invoking Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty, the formal mechanism for beginning the divorce.

She lost that appeal on Tuesday, and Brexit Secretary David Davis later announced he was preparing a "straightforward" Bill to trigger Brexit, which Mrs May's spokesman said would be published today.

"The PM has listened & has agreed to #WhitePaper on #Brexit - it's part of building a consensus & healing #Brexit wounds," former business minister Anna Soubry tweeted after Mrs May's turnaround. Ms Soubry was one of at least six Conservative legislators, including five former ministers, who united with the main opposition Labour Party on Tuesday to explicitly demand a White Paper.

Yesterday Mr Bill Cash, a Conservative who campaigned for Brexit, also said he expected the government to publish a plan, telling Mr Davis in a letter that "many" MPs "expected" one.

The government wants to rush the legislation through Parliament before its self-imposed deadline to begin exit talks by end-March.

Labour, the main opposition party, will try to re-write the Bill to force the publishing of a formal plan, its Brexit spokesman, Mr Keir Starmer, told lawmakers. He also wants to require Mrs May to report back to lawmakers regularly and to give them a meaningful, binding vote on the final deal she strikes with the EU.

"We will be seeking to lay amendments to ensure proper scrutiny and accountability throughout the process," Mr Starmer said.

The Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party have said they too will seek to amend the Bill.

Mrs May yesterday said Britain would "fall back on other arrangements" if Parliament rejects the deal she negotiates.

The White Paper is likely to be debated separately from the Bill to trigger Brexit.

With Mrs May having a slim working majority in the Commons of just 16, it would take only a small rebellion from her own side for her to lose a vote on the issue.

The pound extended an advance after Mrs May's announcement, climbing through US$1.26 for the first time since Dec 14.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2017, with the headline 'May promises White Paper on Britain's Brexit plan'. Print Edition | Subscribe