May pledges parliament debate before triggering Brexit

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at 2016.10.12
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May pledges parliament debate before triggering Brexit

Theresa May has moved to allay concerns about a lack of scrutiny of the government’s Brexit plans, agreeing to demands for “a full and transparent” Commons debate before the Article 50 exit clause is activated.

Mrs May made the promise on Tuesday night ahead of a Commons debate on Wednesday, but crucially she has not promised to allow MPs a formal vote on the government’s negotiating strategy.

The prime minister wants to keep her cards close to her chest before the formal start of EU exit talks, which will begin when she triggers Article 50. She says the process will start before the end of March 2017.

Mrs May’s promised help spur a sharp rally in the pound from a steep sell-off in New York trading on concerns about the prospect of a “hard Brexit” for Britain. As London trading gathered pace, the pound had gained 1.5 per cent to $1.227 from its New York nadir, when it dropped as low as $1.2090.

Mrs May does not want to put her negotiating demands into the public domain before that moment, leading to growing frustration from MPs in all parties that the House of Commons is not able to scrutinise her Brexit plan.

There is also the risk that Mrs May’s plan could be defeated by MPs if they believed it represented a so-called “hard Brexit”: a rupture from the single market and customs union without an acceptable fallback position.

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Commons unrest was visible on Monday, with numerous Conservative MPs joining former Labour leader Ed Miliband and former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg in demanding full scrutiny of the plan.

Labour will on Wednesday try to exploit the government’s discomfort with a debate on a motion calling for “a full and transparent debate” to allow the Commons to “properly scrutinise” the government’s plans before Article 50 is activated.

Fearing that some Tory MPs would rally behind the apparently innocuous Labour motion, Mrs May added an amendment to the Labour motion on Tuesday conceding the need for such scrutiny.

But the amendment carried the crucial rider that such scrutiny must “not undermine the negotiating position of the government” — an apparent get-out clause that could deny MPs either full scrutiny or a vote.

Emily Thornberry, shadow foreign secretary, and Sir Keir Starmer, shadow Brexit minister, have tabled 170 questions for the government to answer about its strategy before Article 50 is triggered.

The aim is to put pressure on ministers to publish their plans in a formal paper; earlier talk by ministers about bringing forward a Brexit white paper have been quietly abandoned.

A Number 10 source said: “The government is focused on delivering on Brexit. We have always been clear that Parliament has an important role to play, and this motion reflects that.”

Ms Thornberry told BBC Today programme it had forced the government to back down with the agreement to have a debate before Article 50 is triggered, claiming ministers earlier insisted on keeping the negotiations secret.

“Now we are doing our job as the opposition and we’re doing it well. We published 170 questions today that we expect the government to answer, at least to have some idea about, at least to have thought about before they go and trigger article 50. Today they backed down in parliament and wer’e pleased,” she said.

additional reporting by John Murray-Brown in London and Jennifer Hughes in Hong Kong

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Published at Wed, 12 Oct 2016 06:22:30 +0000

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