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16.01.17

Brexit committee urges government to set out plans by mid-February

The government should set out its Brexit plans by mid-February in the form of a White Paper and hold a parliamentary vote on the final deal, parliament’s cross-party Brexit committee has stressed.

The first report by the Exiting the European Union Committee (EEUC), the parliamentary committee created to scrutinise Brexit, also calls for no return for tariffs for UK businesses and for the government to outline a framework on the country’s future trading relationship with the EU.

The committee said that the framework should be drawn up if a final agreement is not reached by the time the UK leaves the EU and should include “appropriate transitional arrangements” in the interests of continuing business between the parties.

“This is going to be a hugely complex task and the outcome will affect us all,” said Hilary Benn MP, chair of the EEUC. “The government needs to publish its Brexit plan by mid-February at the latest, including its position on membership of the single market and the customs union, so that it can be scrutinised by parliament and the public.

“Whatever deal is concluded, Parliament must be given a vote on it and the government should make this clear now."

The committee has warned that a return to tariffs or similar impediments to trade, particularly to the financial services industry, “would not be in the interests” of businesses in the UK or the EU and it has therefore urged the government to avoid this outcome in its negotiations.

MPs have also argued that the government should assure the position of EU citizens currently resident in the UK and Britons currently living in the EU, along with continued co-operation on defence, foreign policy and security and clarity around Northern Ireland’s border arrangements.

The EEUC has stressed that the government’s plan must be published in mid-February to give MPs time to scrutinise it properly before Article 50 is triggered, with the prime minister Theresa May set to trigger the article by the end of March this year.

“We're not asking the government to give away its red lines or negotiating fall back positions, but we do want clarity on its broad aims given the significance and complexity of the negotiating task,” Benn added.

“This White Paper must be published by mid-February to give Parliament and the devolved governments time to scrutinise it."

Due to the complexity and scale of delivering Brexit, all four nations of the UK are represented on the EEUC, with devolved governments also set to be involved in discussions around the proposed Great Repeal Bill which will annul EU law’s effect in the UK.

The triggering of Article 50 may yet be delayed due to the ongoing court case R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, which may force the government to also open up the decision to trigger to Parliament. The Supreme Court is due to express its final judgment shortly.

Dr Hannah White, research director at the Institute for Government, said that the report recognises the challenges faced by the government in preparing for Brexit, particularly the need for departments to be given greater clarity and resources.

With May set to deliver a major speech this Tuesday (17 January) outlining the government’s vision for Brexit, White said that the prime minister should use the speech to address these challenges.

“She needs to either set out the UK’s negotiating objectives, or explain when she intends to set them out,” added White. “She should also use Tuesday’s speech as an opportunity to clarify parliament’s role in the Brexit process.”

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