British parliament set to back PM May's Brexit timetable

By REUTERS
December 7, 2016 13:48
2 minute read.

 
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LONDON - The British parliament was set to back Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit timetable on Wednesday after she headed off a rebellion in her Conservative Party over a lack of insight into the government's strategy to leave the European Union.

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. She says giving too much away could weaken Britain's hand in the country's most important negotiations since World War Two.

The opposition Labour Party had tried to force her to reveal more details of her plan before triggering the formal divorce procedure, something she has said she will do before the end of March, by submitting a parliamentary motion.

But May has turned the tables on Labour by proposing that the debate should also be on whether lawmakers "respect the wishes" expressed in June's EU referendum. Few lawmakers would be likely to oppose this for fear of looking undemocratic.

Lawmakers welcomed her move to offer parliament scrutiny of her plan for Brexit, but some expressed concern that May, appointed prime minister shortly after Britain voted to exit the EU in June, might offer little more than her stock catchphrases such as wanting the "best possible deal".

"The focus is now where it should be: on the terms upon which we exit the EU," Keir Starmer, Labour's Brexit spokesman, said in a statement.

"Labour have consistently said that we will not frustrate or delay the process of triggering Article 50. Therefore Labour will accept the government's amendment," he said, referring to the amendment which calls on parliament to accept the referendum's outcome and May's Brexit timetable.

With Labour on board, May should get parliamentary backing for her plan to trigger Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty to start the divorce talks by the end of March - a procedure businesses and EU officials want to get under way as soon as possible.

For May, sticking to her timetable is crucial, and forcing parliament to approve her plan reduces the impact of a legal case over whether the government needs parliament's assent to invoke Article 50 rather than just a cabinet decision.

The government is challenging an earlier court ruling in favour of parliamentary approval in the Supreme Court.

But some critics said they feared that by amending the Labour motion, May had ensured that she would not need to offer any detail of her plans beyond a pledge to get the best possible access to the EU's single market while curbing immigration.

"The government's commitment to publishing a Brexit plan is good news but the devil will be in the detail," said James McGrory, an executive director of the Open Britain campaign which is lobbying for a so-called "soft Brexit".

"The plan they bring before parliament should be substantive and it should be given proper time for debate."

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