In the first major flashpoint over the Brexit process, the opposition Labour Party on Wednesday prevailed over Prime Minister Theresa May to agree to parliamentary scrutiny of her government’s plans to leave the European Union.
So far, the government’s stand was that it was for the executive to carry out the instruction of the British people delivered in the June 23 referendum that Britain should leave the bloc. It had left no role for Parliament.
This led to accusations that the sovereignty of Parliament was being undermined and that it was being sidelined. Labour insisted the opposition would not let ministers “go into a locked room and come out with some plan that they want to keep secret”.
May agreed on Wednesday to debate a Labour-sponsored motion that there should be a “full and transparent” debate on her government’s plan to leave the EU. She added an amendment that the Brexit process should be conducted in a way that respects the June 23 vote. The debate is expected to conclude on Wednesday evening.
It was not clear whether Parliament would be able to vote on the government’s Brexit strategy, but shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said: “We want to have proper scrutiny, and proper scrutiny means a vote. We are absolutely clear about that.”
Labour went on the offensive by shooting off 170 Brexit-related questions to the government – one for every day until the end of March 2017, by when May has said she will trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to exit the EU.
The questions demand answers to issues related to all aspects of leaving the EU, including the European Single Market, the future of EU nationals in Britain and the impact on the National Health Service.
May and her ministers have been refusing to disclose details on the ground that they will not provide a running commentary on their negotiating plans. Thornberry said the secrecy was “nonsense”, as many of the negotiating demands would emerge as soon as the UK starts talks with other EU member states.
Open Britain, the new incarnation of the Stronger in Europe campaign group during the EU referendum, said: “It is welcome that the government has conceded that there should be proper parliamentary scrutiny of their negotiating position before they trigger Article 50.
“Hopefully this will put to an end the absurd accusation that anyone who asks the government questions is trying to deny the result of the referendum. This is a significant starting point. MPs from across the House should now push for a vote on the government’s negotiation terms, which the government amendment to the motion does not compel them to hold.”