British lawmakers to vote on May’s Brexit timetable
British lawmakers will be asked to vote Wednesday on Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to start Brexit by March next year in a parliamentary showdown between the government and pro-EU MPs.
May has agreed to provide further details on her negotiating strategy before triggering the Article 50 exit process — as long as MPs back her timetable and the result of the June referendum to leave the European Union.
The House of Commons vote is not binding, and the government is still fighting a legal challenge at the Supreme Court against moves to give parliament the final say on starting the withdrawal process.
Commentators said Wednesday’s debate was intended to flush out those MPs who may seek to delay Brexit in the event that the legal case succeeds.
May has said she intends to trigger Article 50 of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty, starting a two-year exit process, by the end of March.
But to the frustration of lawmakers — and EU leaders — she has refused to give a “running commentary” on her strategy, insisting that revealing her hand prematurely would undermine the negotiations.
In a parliamentary motion on Wednesday, the opposition Labour party called on the government to publish its “plan for leaving” before triggering Article 50.
Dozens of MPs from May’s Conservative party were preparing to back the move, threatening an embarrassing defeat for the prime minister.
But in a last-minute manoeuvre, she published an amendment effectively accepting the motion — on condition that MPs accept her timetable to begin Brexit.
– ‘A trap’ –
The government amendment is likely to pass when MPs vote at around 1900 GMT after Labour accepted it.
“Labour’s focus has always been on getting an assurance from the government that a basic plan for Brexit will be published before Article 50 is invoked,” said the party’s Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer.
“The victory today is that the government have now finally accepted Labour’s call and committed to publish a plan.”
Conservative lawmaker Anna Soubry, who had said she would vote with Labour, said it was a “great opportunity for the government to make sure that parliament scrutinises its plan”.
But some commentators said the demand for the government to lay out its “plan” was very vague.
May has previously set out what she said was her plan, stating her intention to maintain the “best possible deal” for trade with the EU, to create new deals outside the bloc and to control immigration.
The Labour motion has also given ministers considerable leeway to withhold details, by stating “there should be no disclosure of material that could be reasonably judged to damage the UK in any negotiations”.
Labour lawmaker Ben Bradshaw said it was a “trap”.
“I will not vote today to invoke Article 50 by March when we still have no idea what sort of Brexit the government will pursue,” he wrote on Twitter.
– ‘Separate’ from court case –
May’s Downing Street office said the vote did not affect the case at the Supreme Court, which is holding hearings this week over whether the government or parliament should begin the Brexit process.
It was a “separate issue”, a spokesman said.
The government is appealing a ruling by the High Court last month that it cannot use executive power to trigger Article 50, and must first seek authorisation from parliament.
Members of the House of Commons overwhelmingly opposed Brexit during the June referendum, prompting concerns they might seek to delay Britain’s withdrawal or soften the terms of the break.
The government’s lawyer, James Eadie, told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that if it loses the case, ministers could present a “one-line” piece of legislation to parliament authorising Article 50 and seek to push it through as quickly as possible.