26th Feb 2021

British MPs back May's Brexit timetable

British lawmakers backed prime minister Theresa May's Brexit timetable on Wednesday (7 December) after she promised to present more detail on the government's strategy and objectives for leaving the EU.

MPs approved the non-binding motion by 448 votes to 75. It said parliament "should respect the wishes of the UK as expressed in the referendum on June 23", when 52 percent of the Brits voted to leave the bloc.

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It was the first time the parliament voted to endorse May's promise to invoke article 50 of the EU treaty, which would formally set off the negotiations to leave the EU, by March.

Broad backing behind the motion indicated that few MPs would be willing to block Brexit.

The lawmakers also said they had a right to "properly scrutinise" the government and demanded that it publishes a "plan" for leaving the EU before article 50 is invoked.

They agreed there should be no disclosure of material that could damage the UK's negotiating position.

The prime minister has been secretive about the government's plans, saying she would not give a "running commentary" on Brexit negotiations. The opposition Labour party has repeatedly argued that the government has no exit strategy.

She now conceded to more openness, partly to stem a rebellion among her own Tory MPs who demanded more insight into the government's dealings.

But the government remained vague on how much insight it will give to parliament and when it will publish the exit plan.

"This word 'plan' is used in an extremely vague way," said senior conservative Ken Clarke, a Remain campaigner.

"I will make as much information as possible available without prejudicing our negotiating position," said David Davis, the Brexit minister.

Labour Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said his party would challenge it again if the government only offered a “late, vague plan”.

Twenty-three Labour MPs still voted against the motion, and their leadership, because of the lack of Tory assurances.

The EU Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, told a news conference before the vote on Tuesday that Britons should start negotiations "the sooner the better”.

He said negotiations had to conclude in just 18 months - by October 2018.

Meanwhile, Britain's supreme court is holding a hearing this week on the government's appeal against a high court ruling that said it must seek parliamentary approval before invoking Article 50.

Lord Pannick, a lawyer for the claimant Gina Miller, told the court on Wednesday the Brexit referendum did not have the legal force to overrule parliamentary sovereignty.

Supreme court president David Neuberger replied that it would be "a bit surprising" that an act such as the referendum wouldn't have a legal effect.

Thursday will be the last day of hearings in the appeal. It will give the government a chance to reply to claimants' arguments.

The supreme court is expected to deliver its ruling early next year, and is not bound by the parliament's non-binding vote.

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