Britain lays out Brexit blueprint, vows to seek close EU ties

The publication of the ‘White Paper’ is part of an attempt by Prime Minister Theresa May to keep lawmakers on side as she launches Britain’s formal divorce talks with the EU

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 February, 2017, 10:55pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 February, 2017, 10:55pm

Britain will do its utmost to negotiate a divorce deal with the European Union that is mutually beneficial, Brexit minister David Davis said on Thursday, setting out the government’s strategy in an official policy document.

The publication of the “White Paper” is part of an attempt by Prime Minister Theresa May to keep lawmakers on side as she launches Britain’s formal divorce talks with the EU.

Britain’s future relationship with the European Union has split opinion in parliament, where the majority of lawmakers voted to remain a member of the bloc in a June referendum. Some fear May is leading the country towards a chaotic Brexit, with no framework for future economic and security cooperation.

Introducing the document, Davis defended the government against charges it had offered lawmakers no time to consider its Brexit White Paper which, some said, gave little detail beyond what May has already said.

“We will seek a new strategic partnership. A bold and ambitious free trade and customs agreement that should ensure the most free and frictionless trade in goods and services that is possible,” Davis told parliament.

“That will be to our mutual benefit.”

Davis said the UK will be leaving the European Union’s customs union to gain control over its own tariffs and negotiate trade deals around the world

“We will not be bound by the EU’s Common External Tariff or participate in the Common Commercial Policy,” according to the 77-page outline. “But we do want to ensure that cross-border trade with the EU is as frictionless and seamless as possible.”

Speaking to lawmakers in Parliament in London, Davis was asked to confirm that the UK would part ways with both the single market and the customs union. “We exclude ourselves from the Common Commercial Policy and the Common External Tariff, which amounts to that – exactly,” the Brexit secretary replied.

He reiterated May’s priorities in the negotiations, which she wants to launch before the end of March, and the paper offered some detail on how the British government saw the divorce process, suggesting a phased implementation.

But several opposition lawmakers said the government was still keeping parliament in the dark over its plan to leave the EU, a criticism which has been repeated against May who has said she does not want to give away her negotiating hand.

Opposition MPs blasted Davis for publishing the document only minutes before they could question him on it in parliament.

Dozens of amendments are scheduled for debate over three days in the House of Commons from Monday.

The bill will then move to the upper House of Lords for debate from February 20, with the government hoping for their approval by March 7.

But the bill could be delayed in the Lords, where the Conservatives do not have a majority – and where the unelected peers have no fear of a voter backlash.

“For months we’ve been calling for a plan ... now there’s a White Paper too late in the day to ask meaningful questions ... That is completely unacceptable,” said Keir Starmer, Brexit spokesman for the opposition Labour Party.

Under pressure to give the parliament more say over her plans, May was forced by a Supreme Court ruling to draft a new law giving her the right to trigger Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty and start the talks.

With a majority in parliament, she cleared the first legislative hurdle for the bill on Wednesday but the new law will face more scrutiny by lawmakers next week.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse

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