British govt will issue statement on Brexit strategy

The European Union's chief negotiator has set a target of agreeing on a Brexit deal with Britain by October 2018. His comments came on a day when pressure mounted on the UK to clarify what sort of deal it should pursue.

Assurance comes as lawmakers, businesses seek clarity on future relationship with EU

LONDON • The British government will publish a statement on its negotiating strategy for leaving the European Union before triggering the formal divorce procedure, minister David Lidington yesterday assured, as lawmakers debate plans to trigger the start of Brexit next year.

Prime Minister Theresa May has come under pressure from lawmakers, businesses and investors to set out at the very least a broad picture of how she sees Britain's future relationship with the EU. But she has said that giving too much away could weaken Britain's negotiating hand.

"We will publish, before Article 50 is triggered, a statement about our negotiating strategy and objectives," Mr Lidington, the minister who manages government business in Parliament, told lawmakers.

The British Parliament was due to vote last night on an opposition Labour Party motion to which the government has proposed an amendment which seeks backing for Mrs May's timetable to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the formal EU exit process, by the end of March in return for details of her Brexit plans.

Any lawmaker voting against the government would be voting to thwart the will of the British people who want to leave the EU, said Mr Lidington.

Mrs May agreed on Tuesday to a demand for Parliament to see her plan for Brexit before she triggers the formal divorce procedure but added that the debate should also be on whether lawmakers "respect the wishes" expressed in the June referendum on EU membership and on her timetable.

Britons voted by 52 per cent to 48 per cent to quit the bloc.

Mr Lidington said: "The vote tonight will be the first opportunity for members of this House to decide whether or not they support the government's timetable on triggering Article 50 by the end of March 2017.

"Any right honourable member who votes against that motion will, in my view, be seeking to thwart the outcome of the referendum in the most profoundly undemocratic manner."

The vote is non-binding.

Opening the main debate for the opposition Labour Party, Mr Keir Starmer said he does not want to "frustrate" the Brexit process "or to delay the timetable", but he called on the government to produce a minimum plan for what it wanted to achieve in talks with the EU.

"We're not going to have a situation where the government seeks a vote in a vacuum or produces a late, vague plan," he said.

Mrs May's team must set out a strategy that includes "enough detail and clarity to end the circus of uncertainty" on Britain's membership of the EU single market, Customs union, and any proposal for transitional arrangements to soften the blow after leaving the EU, Mr Starmer added.

The government has been trying to prevent Parliament voting on Brexit after the High Court ruled that parliamentary approval is required to invoke Article 50.

The decision is now being challenged by the government in the Supreme Court, which is expected to deliver its ruling next month.

Mrs May hopes to wrap up negotiations over Brexit by March 31, 2019, followed by Britain's formal departure from the EU in May the same year.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 08, 2016, with the headline 'British govt will issue statement on Brexit strategy'. Print Edition | Subscribe