Brexit: Tory MPs demand immediate publication of EU withdrawal plans following Theresa May U-turn

MP says asking Parliament to vote without seeing it is like ‘jumping off a building into the dark’

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Thursday 26 January 2017 01:36 GMT
Prime Minister Theresa May
Prime Minister Theresa May (AFP/Getty)

Tory MPs are demanding Theresa May publish her Brexit plans to Parliament immediately, after the Prime Minister was forced into a humiliating U-turn on the issue.

Conservatives said Ms May’s climbdown in finally agreeing to publish a White Paper on her withdrawal plans would be meaningless unless she did so quickly, before Parliament votes on officially triggering Brexit talks.

One Conservative MP said the suggestion that they approve triggering Article 50 without first seeing the plans cemented into a White Paper was like “jumping off a building into the dark”.

It came as the European Parliament announced it would investigate the Government’s treatment of EU nationals living in the UK who have applied for citizenship or permanent residency since the Brexit referendum.

Ms May is set to publish an Article 50 Bill on Thursday and could require MPs to vote on its early stages at some point next week.

The Prime Minister’s previous refusal to publish any withdrawal strategy beyond what she said in her key Brexit speech last week angered MPs who believe they cannot hold her to the plans unless she lays them out in an official document.

After a group of around a dozen Tories began pushing for the White Paper, with one promising “tension and bad blood” if she refused, Ms May finally agreed.

She said on Wednesday: “I have been clear, as have senior ministers, that we will ensure that Parliament has every opportunity to provide that scrutiny on this issue as we go through this process.

“I set out that bold plan for a global Britain last week and I recognise there is an appetite in this House to see that plan set out in a White Paper.”

Theresa May pledges white paper on Brexit strategy

But despite being repeatedly asked when it would come officials refused to say if it would be before the Commons is asked to vote on Article 50.

One senior Tory MP told The Independent: “I don’t intend to start jumping off a building into the dark without some understanding of what’s at the bottom.

“That understanding needs to be in the White Paper – a statement of government intent.”

The member went on: “It’s as if they have some sort of vague paranoia, a belief that this is all some trick to stop Brexit. It’s not a trick, it’s normal stuff.”

Former Chancellor Ken Clarke also said the paper should be published before MPs are expected to approve Ms May’s Article 50 legislation.

He added: “I would be disappointed if she thinks that’s not going to happen, because it reduces the point of it all together – I’m also hoping the White Paper has a little more substance on her negotiating position.”

Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve said he was pleased Ms May had given way in agreeing to officially record the Government’s negotiating blueprint.

But he went on: “The whole point is that Parliament can be informed of that view prior to triggering Article 50.”

Tory chair of the Commons Education Committee Neil Carmichael said MPs would be “deeply disappointed” if they were not given the chance to see the White Paper before the Article 50 vote.

The leading supporter of the pro-single market Open Britain campaign said: “The White Paper that is published must now be sufficiently detailed, and be published in time for Parliament to be able to have a meaningful debate before Article 50 is triggered.”

Labour described the announcement as a “significant and welcome U-turn” after Downing Street spent weeks resisting calls.

But a spokesman for leader Jeremy Corbyn insisted it was vital the document is available in time for MPs to consider it before they vote on triggering Article 50, and the two-year negotiation process.

The party also indicated it would put forward amendments to the Article 50 Bill designed to ensure MPs are given a “meaningful” vote on any eventual deal with the EU, after Ms May indicated that a rejection of her deal would mean Britain reverting to World Trade Organisation terms, which would include tariffs on many exports.

Ms May's official spokeswoman said the White Paper would be published “in due course”, making no commitment that MPs would see it before the crucial Article 50 vote.

Meanwhile, Dutch MEP Sophie in 't Veld has said she intends to form a cross-party taskforce to examine cases where EU nationals have faced a “bureaucratic wall” when seeking to secure their future in the UK.

She said she had taken up the cause in response to concerns EU nationals had raised with her.

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