British MPs demand vote on final Brexit deal
By Benjamin Fox
British prime minister Theresa May must say whether the UK should remain in the EU single market or customs union before starting exit talks with the EU. She must also give MPs a vote on the final deal with the EU, a committee of senior MPs has demanded.
The recommendations form part of the first report of the House of Commons's cross-party Exiting the EU Committee, published on Saturday (14 January).
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The committee argues that ministers should also seek "appropriate transitional arrangements" as part of an "outline framework" on the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU, if it is clear that a new pact cannot by agreed by the time the UK leaves the EU in spring 2019.
It adds that the government should publicly “commit to Parliament having a vote on the final Treaty”.
"It would be unsatisfactory and potentially damaging to both sides were the UK to leave the EU with no agreement having been reached," the report states.
May is expected to give a clearer idea of her negotiating plans in a speech on Tuesday (17 January).
Since becoming prime minister in July, May and her ministers have kept their cards close to their chest, insisting that they will not give a "running commentary" on their strategy and the negotiations that will follow.
She has promised to trigger Article 50, which starts a two year process of agreeing the UK’s divorce from the EU, by the end of March.
'Cliff edge' effect
But MPs across all parties have become increasingly frustrated at the lack of clarity and information about the government’s tactics.
Both May and Brexit secretary David Davis have hinted that immigration control will take priority over access to the EU single market, though they have also vowed to ensure that UK businesses continue to have unfettered access to the EU market.
"Achieving all these objectives will be difficult," notes the committee.
The demand for a transitional arrangement has grown in recent weeks, based on the assumption that the terms of the UK’s new relationship with the EU will not be finalised within a tight two-year Article 50 window.
The risk of a "cliff edge" effect "might also push some businesses to pre-empt the result of negotiations and minimise the risks to their business," the committee argues.
In a paper published on Thursday (12 January), financial sector lobby group CityUK urged ministers to ensure the harmonisation of regulation between the UK and EU, through "the mutual recognition of regulatory regimes, building on and going beyond the existing equivalence regimes."
"Two years is so short," committee chairman Hilary Benn, a Labour MP and supporter of the campaign to remain in the EU, told EUobserver, adding that "the French and German elections mean that negotiations will not really start until autumn 2017."
"Whatever deal is concluded, Parliament must be given a vote on it and the government should make this clear now," said Benn.
EU foreign policy
He said that he favours the UK being part of a "European common foreign policy area" to ensure close co-operation continues between the UK and EU and foreign, defence and security policy. "There is an overwhelming need to work together and be part of this…although we are leaving the institutions of the EU," he noted.
Elsewhere, the committee urges the government to prioritise a swift agreement on the status of UK citizens living in the EU, and vice versa, and the UK’s ongoing relationship with EU regulatory bodies and agencies, some of which are currently based in the UK.
As a "bare minimum", ministers should also resolve "the status of ongoing police and judicial cooperation; and the status of UK participation in ongoing Common Foreign and Security Policy missions," the report adds.
Appearing before a parliamentary committee on 20 December, May refused to be drawn on whether MPs should have a say on the final agreement. The government is, however, likely to lose its appeal against a High Court ruling in November that ministers must consult Parliament before triggering Article 50.