Brexit: White paper to reveal government strategy


Media captionWhen MPs voted to back Article 50 bill

The government’s strategy for Brexit will face scrutiny from politicians and the public for the first time when a white paper is published later.

The paper, which comes after MPs voted to allow the PM to begin the Brexit process, will outline Downing Street’s negotiating aims for leaving the EU.

MPs backed the European Union Bill by 498 votes to 114 on Wednesday night.

The bill will now face more debate before it can become law, with Labour vowing to force through amendments.

MPs will discuss the bill in more detail next week when it reaches the committee stage in the Commons.

Hundreds of amendments have already been tabled for debate between Monday and Wednesday, with objectives set out in the white paper expected to attract more.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said “the battle of the week ahead” was to shape Brexit negotiations “to put jobs, living standards and accountability centre stage”.

“Labour’s amendments are the real agenda,” he said.

“The challenge is for MPs of all parties to ensure the best deal for Britain, and that doesn’t mean giving Theresa May a free hand to turn Britain into a bargain-basement tax haven.”

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Mr Corbyn had imposed a three-line whip – the strongest sanction at his disposal – on his MPs to vote in favour of the government’s Brexit bill.

However, 47 Labour MPs defied the whip, while shadow cabinet members Rachael Maskell and Dawn Butler quit the party’s front bench shortly before the vote. Jo Stevens had resigned last week.

In total, 13 Labour frontbenchers voted against their own party position.

Iain Watson, BBC political correspondent, said a “sizeable” Labour rebellion could grow further if amendments were not passed.

A Conservative Party spokesman said the rebellion showed “Labour can’t speak for themselves, let alone speak for the country”.


Analysis

By Iain Watson, BBC political correspondent

In truth, the substance of the government’s white paper will be similar to the speech the prime minister gave last month, setting out her priorities for the forthcoming negotiations with the EU.

Only one Conservative MP – the former Chancellor Ken Clarke – voted against the principle of leaving the EU last night but some of his colleagues are more likely to defy their government on the detail.

Labour, however, appears more divided.

Three shadow cabinet members refused to support triggering Article 50 and stepped down before the vote.

Jeremy Corbyn is yet to decide whether to discipline the 10 junior shadow ministers who rebelled, or indeed the three whips who were supposed to impose party discipline rather than flaunt it.

With the possibility of two more shadow cabinet members going next week, Mr Corbyn will have to decide whether to relax his instruction not to block Brexit if Labour’s amendments are defeated.


The government’s bill was published last week, after the Supreme Court decided MPs and peers must have a say before Article 50 could be triggered to start the formal Brexit process.

The SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats all opposed the bill, alongside Tory Ken Clarke.

The SNP’s foreign affairs spokesman at Westminster, Alex Salmond, said there would be “detailed questions” about the bill during the committee stage.

He said “the calibre of the government will be judged by how they respond to the amendments”.

Mr Clarke, the only Conservative MP to defy his party by voting against the bill, said the result was “historic”, but the “mood could change” when the “real action” of negotiations with the EU starts.

Mrs May has set a deadline of 31 March for invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Talks with the EU are expected to last up to two years, with the UK predicted to leave the 28-member organisation in 2019.



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