Tory MPs refuse to accept findings on Brexit by their own Brexit committee

Eurosceptic John Whittingdale says report is 'unduly negative'

Harriet Agerholm
Tuesday 04 April 2017 12:29
Demonstrators wave EU flags and Union Flags in Parliament Square
Demonstrators wave EU flags and Union Flags in Parliament Square

Pro-Brexit Tory MPs have rejected the findings of their own parliamentary committee, which concluded that Theresa May made “unsubstantiated” claims about Britain's relationship with the European Union.

The Commons Brexit Select Committee deduced the Prime Minister’s statement that “no deal” on post-Brexit trade with the bloc was better than a bad deal was not supported by evidence.

The cross-party panel in turn called for Parliament to be given a vote on whether to accept Ms May’s decision to exit the EU without trade agreements in place at the end of the two-year negotiation process. It also requested the Government conduct a thorough public report of the consequences of crashing out of the EU without agreements in place on future trade relations.

Yet Conservative MP Dominic Raab condemned the report as “rushed, skewed and partisan”.

He and five others pro-Brexit MPs sitting on the committee voted against the inquiry's conclusion. It followed reports that a number of Eurosceptic MPs walked out of a private committee meeting chaired by Labour’s Hilary Benn a week before the paper's publication, saying it was "too gloomy

Five Conservatives in total, including Mr Raab, the former culture minister John Whittingdale and Democratic Unionist Sammy Wilson voted against the report, but were outnumbered by 10 Labour, Tory, Liberal Democrat, SNP and SDLP committee members, all of whom backed Remain in last year's referendum.

Mr Whittingdale said the report was “unduly negative” and had “very much concentrated on the problems without really recognising the opportunities” of Brexit.

“The report was rushed, skewed and partisan. After two reports that had strong support, it's regrettable that this one split the committee.

“That undermines its credibility and influence, but I hope and expect the committee will learn the right lessons as we move forward.”

The committee – which was appointed by the House of Commons to scrutinise the expenditure, administration and policy of the Department for Exiting the European Union – last month heard Brexit Secretary David Davis admit no assessment had been made of the cost of leaving the EU without a trade deal and falling back on World Trade Organisation tariffs.

“Without an economic assessment of 'no deal' having been done and without evidence that steps are being taken to mitigate what would be the damaging effect of such an outcome, the Government's assertion that 'no deal is better than a bad deal', is unsubstantiated,” the report warned.

It backed the finding of a previous report by the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee that a no deal scenario “represents a very destructive outcome leading to mutually assured damage for the EU and the UK”.

Parliament and the public have a “right to the maximum possible information” about the impact of failing to secure a deal, and the Government should conduct “a thorough assessment of the economic, legal and other implications” of all options under consideration, the report said.

The committee challenged Mrs May's insistence that she will offer only a “take it or leave it” vote to Parliament on any deal she achieves, stating it was “essential” MPs also get a vote “in the event that there is no deal”.

Committee chairman Hilary Benn said: “Leaving the EU without a future trade deal and in doing so defaulting to World Trade Organisation rules is no less an important decision for the UK's economic future than the terms of any future Free Trade Agreement between the UK and the EU.

“It is therefore essential that such a step is not taken without Parliament having a vote on the matter.”

Brexit Secretary David Davis admits deal with 'exact same benefits' is not a promise

The committee called on the UK Government and EU to reach a “stand-alone and separate” deal on the rights of expatriate citizens as soon as negotiations start, warning it would be “unconscionable” to make three million EU nationals in the UK and one million Britons living on the continent wait until the end of the Article 50 process for certainty about their status.

It urged ministers to seek a “passporting”-style agreement to allow cross-border financial services following Brexit, and said the Government should agree the phased implementation of new arrangements for the sector.

The committee said legislation implementing the UK's withdrawal from the EU is likely to require the legislative consent of devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which should be given enough time to conduct appropriate scrutiny.

Following complaints from devolved administrations of insufficient consultation, the committee urged the UK Government to establish a more effective process for engaging with them and to respond formally to the options papers they have produced.

Lib Dem committee member Alistair Carmichael said the the report was “a devastating critique of the shambles that is the Conservative Brexit strategy”.

He said: “On point after point, the committee makes clear that the Government is wrong, such as on their insistence that a trade deal can be secured in time to avoid a cliff-edge Brexit, and on the Government's singular inability to explain even in general terms how it would replace the customs union.”

But Mr Davis said “a responsible government should prepare for all potential outcomes”, adding: “We are clear that no deal is not what we want or expect, but that it would be better than a deal which sought to punish the UK.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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