The British government has set out its strategy for Brexit in an official policy document presented to parliament.
It follows the vote on Wednesday in the lower house the House of Commons, effectively setting the ball rolling.
That was about process, this was about content: the 77-page White Paper reiterates the government’s 12 priorities in leaving the EU already outlined by the prime minister.
“The White Paper makes clear that we expect to bring forward separate legislation in areas such as customs and immigration delivering a smooth, mutually beneficial exit. Avoiding a disruptive cliff-edge will be key,” the Brexit minister David Davis told the Commons, referring to the danger of a potentially chaotic exit from the EU with no deal at the end of negotiations.
The Brexit white paper: 8 key points you need to knowhttps://t.co/d2WcCE0KqV— BrexitCentral (@BrexitCentral) February 2, 2017
Good to see that the Government have set out that they want to resolve rights of EU nationals in the UK #WhitePaper— Change Britain (@Change_Britain) February 2, 2017
Several opposition politicians accused the government of keeping parliament in the dark over its plans – a charge to which Theresa May has always responded by saying she does not want to give away her negotiating hand.
“For months we’ve been calling for a plan… now there’s a White Paper too late in the day to ask meaningful questions… That is completely unacceptable,” said Keir Starmer, the opposition Labour Party’s Brexit spokesman.
Opinion is divided in parliament over Britain’s future relationship with the EU. Many fear the government’s strategy – seeking a trading relationship outside the single market – endangers the economy.
“This is a mess. It’s a bourach,” Stephen Gethins of the Scottish National Party (SNP) told the Commons, using a Scottish slang word meaning a mess or state of confusion. “It’s going to have an impact on each and every one of us and people deserve better.”
“We shouldn’t be afraid to send the Govt back to the negotiations table if we get a bad #Brexit deal” –
chrislesliemp</a> is right. Please RT: <a href="https://t.co/4Nm7A10R3n">pic.twitter.com/4Nm7A10R3n</a></p>— Open Britain (Open_Britain) February 2, 2017
Theresa May wants to launch the formal talks process with the EU by the end of March.
Her office and the White Paper hint at pushing for a phased implementation, allowing firms time to adapt to life outside the EU.
This has been welcomed by the financial industry. But the government is still accused of being vague, not least over the kind of access it seeks to the single market.