Senior Tories demand Theresa May ends Brexit uncertainty over single market

Some MPs pledge to work with Labour in the run-up to triggering Article 50

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Senior Conservative MPs have vowed not to stand by and allow a botched Brexit, as some warned the lack of a plan for leaving the European Union was now hurting the economy.

A string of former Tory ministers used a House of Commons debate to pile pressure on Theresa May and demand the right to closely scrutinise the preparations for the withdrawal negotiations.

Former transport minister Claire Perry accused the Government of putting “narrow ideological interests” ahead of the national interest by apparently turning its back on the single market.

Others pledged to work with Labour in the run-up to the triggering of the Article 50 exit notice early next year, in what former defence minister Anna Soubry called “very difficult, dangerous times”.

Former health minister Alistair Burt turned his fire on Eurosceptic Conservatives who had attacked the EU with growing hysteria during the referendum campaign.

Mr Burt said: “I listened with despair, and sometimes shame, to the mischaracterisation of the EU and the way it was, by the drip-drip of poison for so long – often from those lips that should have known a damn sight better.”

The debate took place against the backdrop of the pound slumping to a 168-year low. By 5pm, sterling had fallen to $1.219 – a drop of 0.7 per cent from the point the debate started.

And Tesco admitted it was running short on many household brands – including Marmite and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream – after supplier Unilever demanded higher prices because of the plunging pound.

Earlier, during Prime Minister’s Questions, Ms May refused to say if MPs would be given a vote before she invoked Article 50 by her deadline of the end of March next year.

Instead, she pointed to the many occasions when MPs had been able to “discuss, debate, question” her strategy, insisting: “Parliament's going to have every opportunity to debate this issue.”

More and more MPs believe such a vote is becoming inevitable – but the Government is determined to resist that prospect for as long as possible.

Meanwhile, Brexit Secretary David Davis rejected a junior minister’s suggestion that a Brexit White or Green Paper would be published ahead of triggering Article 50, to enable MPs to scrutinise the exit plans thoroughly.

The debate came on a Labour motion demanding “proper” parliamentary scrutiny of the Brexit plan. Late on Tuesday, to avoid a backbench rebellion, Ms May effectively gave it her backing.

Over six hours of sometimes heated debate:

* Labour pointed out that command papers and economic impact papers were put before MPs before Britain entered the then-EEC in 1973 – arguing for the same

* Former Chancellor Ken Clarke alleged that the Prime Minister announced a date for triggering Article 50 and plans for a ‘Great Repeal Bill’ “without a word of Cabinet discussion”

* Dominic Grieve, the former Attorney General, warned “the rule of law” would be jeopardised by Brexit – pointing to “private legal rights that are likely to be affected”

* Several Conservative MPs pointed out that the Conservative manifesto at last year’s general election had said “yes to the single market”

* Nick Clegg in effect accused Ms May of hypocrisy over parliamentary scrutiny – pointing out she had demanded a vote and debate before negotiating opt-outs from EU home affairs rules

* Ed Miliband claimed the Government was refusing to grant a vote on Article 50 because it fears there was no mandate for a 'hard Brexit' in the Commons

* Mr Davis came close to accusing companies of using the Leave vote as an excuse for laying off staff

The Brexit Secretary said: “We saw it ranging from the Italian finance minister – who blamed us for the state of his bond markets – more significantly to banks in this country, saying they're laying people off because of Brexit, which, of course, it turned out to be entirely untrue.”

The Government was supported by many Tory backbenchers, who were satisfied with its concession that there would be a series of debates.

But Ms Perry said: “Many of us on the Government benches will do all we can to preserve the benefits of access to the single market for our local businesses.”

She added: “Many people in the country do not think that there is a policy to put the national interest first.

“They think there is a policy to put people’s narrow ideological interests first. And what we should be setting out is quite clearly how we are going to protect British jobs and businesses and put ideology in the past where it belongs.”

Nicky Morgan, the former Education Secretary, said “briefers and spinners from the centre of this Government” accused her of trying to block Brexit, whenever she asked questions about the negotiations.

And she said: “That only encourages me to ask more questions. And I will work with colleagues on this side of the House, and colleagues across the House, to ask those questions.”

Mr Clarke said the markets gave a “perfectly sensible reaction” to obvious implications of Ms May's speech – that the UK was leaving both the single market and the customs union.

He said: “We still have got no offer of a vote and we need some clarity about the policy the Government’s going to pursue – because the Government is accountable to this House.”

Ms Soubry urged MPs to recognise that putting the national interest first “transcends everything – and includes the normal party political divide”.

And, describing how the “best EU workers” were leaving thriving local businesses and the local Nottingham University, she said: “We should be holding our heads in shame”.

Ms Soubry said: “This place must vote on Article 50 – I really think it is imperative that we do that.” She also predicted a future majority to be in the EU.

Neil Carmichael, Conservative chair of the Education Select Committee, said leaving the single market would be “verging on an act of national self-harm unless we had some alternative”.

And Mr Grieve said: “As far as I'm concerned, my duty to my constituents transcends my duty to my party in this matter.”

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