Keir Starmer: Labour will demand a Commons vote on Brexit

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This is the letter sent by shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer to David Davis, his opposite number, calling on him to publish the Government’s timetable for setting out its plans for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.

I am writing to follow up on last Wednesday’s Opposition Day debate on Parliamentary scrutiny of the Brexit process.

Labour accept and respect the referendum result and are focused on achieving the best possible deal on what will be the defining issue of this Parliament and for many years to come.

However, both those who have voted to leave the EU and those who voted to remain recognise that different negotiating stances under Article 50 could provide radically different outcomes, each of which carries very significant risks and opportunities. The question of what the terms of our exit from the EU should be was not on the ballot paper on 23rd June, nor was it in the Conservative Party’s 2015 manifesto. Very close scrutiny of and full accountability for the Government’s plans for leaving the EU are therefore essential. This is a point that has considerable cross-party support in the House of Commons and from employers, businesses and trade unions.

I welcome the Government’s commitment last Wednesday in the House of Commons that, and I quote: “there should be a transparent debate on the Government’s plans for leaving the EU”.

I also welcome your commitment during the debate that the House of Commons will “have at least the information available to the European Parliament” during negotiations, mirroring the 2010 framework agreement between the European Commission and the European Parliament that “Parliament shall be immediately and fully informed at all stages of the negotiation and conclusion of international agreements, including the definition of negotiating directives”.

In order for the Government to keep these commitments and to help build a national consensus on Brexit, it is vital that its plans outlining the basic terms of the proposed Brexit deal are published in sufficient time to allow proper scrutiny.

I am therefore writing to you today to urge you to outline the Government’s intended timetable for publishing its basic plans for Brexit.

Since the House of Commons will need time properly to scrutinise the plans and, no doubt, the House of Commons Brexit Select Committee along with the devolved administrations will want to do the same, I assume the plans will be made available no later than January 2017. Could you confirm that this will be the case or specify another date upon which the Government proposes to publish its plans.

Obviously I would expect the Government to assess the economic impact of its plans for exiting the EU. Please confirm that this assessment will be part of the process between now and March 2017 when the Prime Minister intends to invoke Article 50. Please also confirm that the economic risk assessment of the plans will be made available to the House of Commons alongside the Government’s basic plans for Brexit when they are published.

Finally, I can confirm that Labour will be pressing for a vote in Government time in the House of Commons on its plans for exiting the EU. Time for a vote and full debate therefore also needs to be built into the Government’s timetable; our economy, businesses and jobs depend upon it.

This vote is needed before Article 50 is invoked. A vote at the end of the exercise is no substitute. By then, the negotiations will be over and Parliament will have had no say or influence in the process. That would be wholly unacceptable.

I look forward to hearing from you at the earliest possible opportunity on this extremely important issue.

Yours sincerely,

Keir Starmer QC MP

Shadow Secretary of State for Leaving the EU

Member of Parliament for Holborn & St Pancras.

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