U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s talks over leaving the European Union is getting complicated as she is battling a rebellion from her own lawmakers.
Demanding that May publishes an official government document detailing her negotiating goals, at least six Conservative legislators are uniting with the main opposition Labour party being emboldened by the Supreme Court’s decision on Tuesday to hand Parliament more power over the Brexit process.
Ensuring they can better hold her to promises such as her pledge to deliver a sweeping post-Brexit trade deal with the EU, their aim is to subject May to the greater parliamentary scrutiny and accountability she sought to avoid. Even if lawmakers prove unable to use their new-found strength to soften her strategy, a so-called white paper could limit her room to maneuver in the talks.
“I would like a white paper that we could debate,” Anna Soubry, the Tory former business minister, said in Parliament. Soubry argued that the divide between May and her critics could be bridged by such a move.
“The reality is that we have abandoned the single market and the free movement of people without any debate in this place, never mind a vote,” she said.
The power to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which sets the clock ticking on two years of debate with the EU, lies with the Parliament and not the premier, U.K. Supreme Court ruled and the uprising came hours after the ruling.
The government must now introduce a bill to Parliament and still intends to trigger the talks by March 31. With the intention of diluting her plans or exerting some future control over her, May’s critics will try to amend the bill.
“The prime minister was wrong to attempt to sideline Parliament,” Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said. “The stakes are high and the role of this House in holding the prime minister and the government to account throughout this process is crucial.”
It would take only a small rebellion from her own side for her to lose a vote on the issue with May having a slim working majority in the Commons of just 16.
To force the publishing of a formal plan, Starmer said he will try to re-write the bill. He said he also wanted to require May to give them a meaningful, binding vote on the final deal she strikes with the EU and to report back to lawmakers regularly.
“We will be seeking to lay amendments to ensure proper scrutiny and accountability throughout the process,” Starmer said. “That starts with a white paper, or plan.”
In a motion that also endorsed the premier’s timetable for pulling the trigger by the end of March, in December, Parliament voted to force May to publish a plan for Brexit before triggering Article 50. Such a plan would be unveiled in February, Brexit Secretary David Davis suggested.
Insisting that May’s speech in London on Jan. 17 was the final word on the U.K.’s approach to the negotiations, Davis rejected calls for a written Brexit plan despite these commitments.
Indicating he would not welcome attempts to amend the legislation, Davis said he would bring forward a short and “simple” bill. He hoped lawmakers from all parties would pass the act of Parliament “swiftly,” he said.
(Adapted from Bloomberg)