May Accepts Call to Reveal More Details of Brexit Strategy

  • Prime minister proposes amendment to Labour’s Brexit motion
  • Labour’s Starmer says move is ‘significant climbdown’ by May

Juckes: Brexit an 'Incredible Act of Diplomacy' for May

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May agreed to reveal more details of her plans for Brexit but challenged lawmakers to back her proposed timetable for withdrawing from the European Union in a debate to be held in Parliament Wednesday.

The main opposition Labour Party is presenting a motion in the House of Commons in London, seeking more details of May’s Brexit proposals. On Tuesday, May signaled she’ll accept the opposition demand as long as Labour supports her plan to start the Brexit process by invoking Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty by the end of March in an amendment to the motion.

“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,” the party’s spokesman on Brexit, Keir Starmer, who’ll open the debate at about 1 p.m., said in an e-mailed statement. “The victory today is that the government have now finally accepted Labour’s call and committed to publish a plan.”

May is trying to avert a rebellion within her own Conservative Party after former Business Minister Anna Soubry told BBC Radio on Monday that as many as 40 Tories were prepared to support Labour in its quest for more parliamentary scrutiny.

‘Hands Tied’

“We have been very clear that what we want to see is the government given maximum flexibility that it requires to start the negotiating process,” May’s spokesman, Greg Swift, told reporters in London on Tuesday. “We don’t believe that the government should go into that negotiating process with its hands tied, and we believe the government has the power to trigger Article 50 by the end of March next year and that is what we are going to do.”

May has refused to flesh out her stance on Brexit, saying repeatedly that she doesn’t want to give her EU counterparts an advantage by revealing her plans too soon. While she’s said she wants to regain control over immigration from the EU, free Britain from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and enable the country to strike free-trade deals, she has yet to clearly state whether Britain should remain in the EU’s single market and customs union. 

She said during a visit to Bahrain this week that she’ll seek a tailor-made “red, white and blue” Brexit deal, evoking the colors of the British flag. It wasn’t immediately clear how much more information about her plans the premier intends to release.

‘Right Deal’

“I’m going to keep some cards close to my chest,” May told the BBC on Tuesday. “I’m sure everybody would realize that in a negotiation you don’t give everything away. It’s important that we are able to achieve the right deal for the U.K.”

Separately from the outcome of Wednesday’s debate, the government is also appealing against a High Court decision that it needs the approval of Parliament before triggering Article 50. Four days of Supreme Court hearings began on Monday, with the court expected to rule next month. A defeat in the court would create much more difficulty for the government, necessitating the introduction of a bill that could delay the Brexit process.

Labour’s motion seeks to recognize “that leaving the EU is the defining issue facing the U.K.” and that “it is Parliament’s responsibility to properly scrutinize the government while respecting the decision of the British people to leave the European Union.” It also says that “there should be no disclosure of material that could be reasonably judged to damage the U.K. in any negotiations to depart” from the bloc.

“I can’t see anything in it that I don’t approve of and couldn’t support,” Soubry said. “I’ve never voted against my government. I’ve always been very loyal -- but these things are incredibly important. This actually transcends party politics and tribalism.”

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