28th Oct 2016

British MPs get chance to shape Brexit strategy

  • Government accused of having no idea how to handle EU talks as clock ticks to negotiations in March (Photo: UK Parliament)

British prime minister Theresa May continued to talk tough on Brexit in a parliament debate on Wednesday (12 October), but left room for MPs to prevent a future trade war with the EU.

Responding to questions by the opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, she said she would seek “maximum possible access to the European market for firms to trade with and operate within”.

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  • Corbyn said "shambolic" Tory approach was harming companies and jobs (Photo: Reuters)

But she added: “I’m also very clear that the vote of the British people said that we should control the movement of people from the EU into the UK, and unlike the right honourable gentleman [Corbyn] we believe we should deliver on what the British people want.”

She also indicated that she would seek a unique deal for the EU instead of trying to retain membership of the single market or the EU customs union.

“We are not asking ourselves what bits of our membership we want to retain,” she said.

May ruled out giving MPs a vote on whether to approve her future Brexit strategy before she triggered the negotiating process by invoking article 50 of the EU treaty.

But she conceded to hold a parliamentary discussion on the strategy prior to the invocation.

"The idea that parliament somehow wasn't going to be able to discuss, debate, question ... was frankly completely wrong," she said, noting that MPs would have “every opportunity to debate” her government’s ideas.

The future debate will give pro-EU MPs an opportunity to create political pressure to avoid a rupture in EU trade relations.

The discussion was also enshrined in a Labour party motion, passed Wednesday, saying that parliament must have “a full and transparent debate” to “properly scrutinise” the government’s plans before the article 50 move.

But May’s ruling Tory party added an amendment to the text, saying: “The process should be undertaken in such a way that respects the decision of the people of the UK when they voted to leave the EU” and that it should "not undermine the negotiating position of the government”.

'Shambolic Tory Brexit'

Wednesday’s talks had earlier seen Corbyn grill May on whether continued single market access was “a red line for the government or not”.

He attacked the prime minister for trying to please Tory eurosceptics instead of protecting the national interest and for delays in drafting a detailed Brexit plan.

“Is the prime minister really willing to risk a shambolic Tory Brexit, just to appease the people behind her?”, he said.

“This is a government that drew up no plans for Brexit, that now has no strategy for negotiating Brexit, and offers no clarity, no transparency”, he added.

“The jobs and incomes of millions of people are at stake, the pound is plummeting, businesses are worrying and the government has no answers”.

Two Labour shadow ministers, Emily Thornberry and Keir Starmer, also tabled a list of 170 questions - one for every day before the end of March, when May said he would trigger article 50 - for May to answer.

The questions also focused on single market access and on immigration controls.

Pound at lowest

Financial markets have reacted nervously to the prospect of the UK crashing out of EU trade structures by forcing down the value of the pound to historic lows.

The pound rallied slightly when news of May’s agreement to the parliament Brexit debate came out.

But other indicators backed up Corbyn’s analysis of the damage done by continued uncertainty over future EU-UK relations.

The pound’s “effective exchange rate”, a way of measuring its value by comparing it to a basket of currencies used by its main trading partners, fell to its lowest level in 168 years this week.

The news came after leaked government figures said Brexit could cost the UK as much as £66 billion (€73bn) a year.

A government Brexit adviser, Raoul Ruparel, has also said that leaving the EU customs union would incur a “permanent” cost of £25 billion a year, or up to 1.2 percent of British GDP.

Column / Brexit Briefing

The City is right to be worried

By promising to prioritise migration control in Brexit talks, prime minister Theresa May has given a clear signal that she will prioritise provincial England over bankers.

May extends Brexit olive branch

The British PM is to launch new Brexit talks with Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales, as nerves fray, also among banks, at the prospect of a "hard" EU exit.

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