- May and her ministers agree to ‘push ahead to Article 50’
- Cabinet meeting emphasizes immigration controls over trade
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet concluded there’s no need to hold a parliamentary vote before beginning the formal process for pulling Britain out of the European Union, with ministers saying they want to “push ahead” with Brexit.
Though opponents of Britain leaving the EU are going to court to argue that Parliament should hold a vote on the triggering of Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, cabinet ministers agreed on Wednesday that such a move is unnecessary. That’s been the government’s position since the country voted to leave the EU on June 23 -- lawmakers were told last month that it’s within the administration’s “prerogative power” -- but this is the first time it has been stated so explicitly by May’s office. On Tuesday, her spokesman said Parliament would be allowed “a say.”
“There was a strong emphasis on pushing ahead to Article 50 to lead Britain successfully out of the European Union -- with no need for a parliamentary vote,” May’s office said in an e-mailed statement after a meeting at Chequers, the premier’s country residence northwest of London.
The statement also rejected the idea that the semi-autonomous governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland might have a decisive input, even though May has begun consultations with them on Brexit. “Cabinet members were clear that it is the United Kingdom’s government’s decision to establish its terms and on when to trigger Article 50,” the premier’s office said. Scottish and Northern Irish voters both backed staying in the bloc.
After a summer in which there has been much discussion of whether Britain would model its new relationship with the EU on Norway’s or Canada’s, the cabinet took “a decisive view that the model we are seeking is one unique to the United Kingdom and not an off-the-shelf solution,” May’s office said. “This must mean controls on the numbers of people who come to Britain from Europe but also a positive outcome for those who wish to trade goods and services.”
That language suggests that May’s red line in the Brexit negotiations will be ending the right of EU citizens to settle freely in Britain, even if that is at the cost of tariff-free access to the bloc’s single market.
The Chequers meeting was the cabinet’s first since the summer vacation. Before the break, the prime minister had charged ministers with identifying possible opportunities from Brexit in their departments. Statements afterward gave no details of the results of their homework.
May opened the meeting by repeating a line that is becoming familiar. “We must continue to be very clear that Brexit means Brexit; that we’re going to make a success of it,” she said. “That means there’s no second referendum; no attempts to sort of stay in the EU by the back door; that we’re actually going to deliver on this.”
How that happens is the more difficult part. May must pull the U.K. out of the 28-nation bloc while minimizing the damage to the economy, protecting key industries such as finance and negotiating new trade deals with both the EU and countries further afield, including the U.S., India and China. At the same time, she’s made it clear her government won’t become consumed by Brexit, focusing also on social reforms.
“We want to be a government and a country that works for everyone, and we’ll be talking about some of the steps that we need to take in order to build that society that works for everyone,” she said, adding that the government will look at how to increase productivity and “get tough on irresponsible behavior in big business -- again making sure that actually everyone is able to share in the country’s prosperity.”
The prime minister has repeatedly said she won’t formally trigger Article 50 before the end of this year. When she does so, Britain will have two years to negotiate its departure and new terms for its relationship with the remaining member states.
Ministers also heard an update of the economic outlook from Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, who has hinted at a tax and spending boost for the economy later this year. The cabinet “reiterated the government’s commitment to fiscal discipline and living within our means,” May’s office said. “They also agreed on the vital need to increase productivity and the importance of doing more to foster economic growth and industrial development in regions up and down the country.”
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