Theresa May promises White Paper on Brexit plan
Prime minister moves to quell backbenchers with policy document before invoking article 50
British prime minister Theresa May responds during the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session in the House of Commons on Wednesday. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Theresa May has moved to head off a backbench revolt by promising to publish a White Paper on her government’s approach to Brexit before invoking article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The prime minister made the announcement to MPs a day after the supreme court ruled that she needs the authorisation of parliament before starting formal Brexit negotiations.
“I have made clear, as have senior ministers, that we will ensure that parliament has every opportunity to carry out such scrutiny as we go through this process. I set out that bold plan for a global Britain last week. I recognise that there is an appetite in the House to see it set out in a White Paper,” she said.
The prime minister did not immediately specify when she would publish the White Paper but Labour insisted that it should be available before MPs vote on article 50. The government is expected to publish a Bill on Thursday, with debates in the House of Commons over the next two weeks, followed by the Lords until early March.
Labour has promised not to seek to block the triggering of article 50 and the publication of a White Paper will address the concerns of many MPs who want greater parliamentary scrutiny of the Brexit process. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who appeared wrongfooted by Ms May’s promise of a White Paper during prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, said the supreme court ruling was about more than just a legal judgment against the government.
“What it signified was the bad judgment of this government: the bad judgment of prioritising corporate tax cuts over investment in national health and social care; the bad judgment of threatening European partners while offering a blank cheque to president Trump; and the bad judgment of wanting to turn Britain into a bargain-basement tax haven,” he said.
The prime minister faced a number of questions about her visit to Washington this week, where she will on Friday become the first foreign leader to meet Donald Trump since he took office. Mr Corbyn urged her to highlight the issue of women’s rights during the meeting, following last week’s demonstration by millions of women around the world, including tens of thousands in London.
The Scottish National Party’s Angus Robertson warned Ms May against rushing into a trade deal with the United States that could lead to a slackening of food safety standards. And Conservative backbencher Andrew Tyrie urged her, in view of Mr Trump’s threat to bring back the use of torture, to make clear that Britain would not facilitate torture by the US as it did after September 11th, 2001.
“Our position on torture is clear: we do not sanction torture and do not get involved in it. That will continue to be our position,” the prime minister said.
She said that the strength of the special relationship between Britain and the US meant that she would be able to speak frankly to the new president.