Brexit Secretary David Davis has set out the British government’s negotiating strategy for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU in a keenly-awaited white paper.
Launching the 77-page document in a statement to the House of Commons, Mr Davis (pictured) said the paper confirmed British Prime Minister Theresa May’s vision of “an independent and truly global United Kingdom”.
Confirming the UK’s strategy would be guided by the 12 principles set out by Mrs May in her Lancaster House speech last month, Mr Davis said the Government was aiming for “a new, positive and constructive partnership between Britain and the European Union that works in our mutual interest”.
The white paper, entitled The United Kingdom’s Exit From And New Partnership With The European Union, was published a day after MPs voted overwhelmingly to permit Mrs May to press ahead with starting withdrawal negotiations under Article 50 of the EU treaties.
Mrs May’s foreword to the white paper was made up of extracts from her Lancaster House speech, in which she said that forging a new partnership with Europe and a “stronger, fairer, more global” Britain would be “the legacy of our time, the prize towards which we work, the destination at which we arrive once the negotiation is done”.
In a preface to the document, Mr Davis said that Britain entered the negotiations which the Government intends to trigger by the end of March in “a position of strength”.
Stressing that the UK “wants the EU to succeed”, he urged the remaining 27 member states and European institutions to be guided in the upcoming negotiations by “the principles set out in the EU Treaties concerning a high degree of international co-operation and good neighbourliness”.
Mr Davis said the Government would not publish details of its plans that would undermine Britain’s negotiating position, but promised “extensive engagement with Parliament” and a “high degree of public engagement” as the process went forward.
“This document sets out our plan for the strong new partnership we want to build with the EU,” he said.
“Whatever the outcome of our negotiations, we will seek a more open, outward-looking, confident and fairer UK, which works for all.”
The white paper provides further detail on how the Government intends to deliver on Mrs May’s 12 objectives of providing certainty and clarity: taking control of our own laws; strengthening the Union; protecting free movement arrangements with Ireland; controlling immigration; securing rights for EU nationals in the UK, and UK nationals in the EU; protecting workers’ rights; ensuring free trade with European markets; securing new trade agreements with other countries; promoting science and innovation; co-operating with EU states on fighting crime and terrorism; and delivering a “smooth, orderly” Brexit.
Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer told the Commons there was “nothing” in the white paper to resolve the position of UK nationals living in other EU countries.
And he said the paper failed to guarantee MPs a “meaningful” vote on the deal eventually obtained by Mrs May, rather than a simple choice to take it or leave it.
But Mr Davis insisted: “Every vote in this House is meaningful and there will be a meaningful vote at the end.”
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “All we’ve seen on Brexit this week is a white paper from the Tories and a white flag from Labour.
“Both are now committed to a hard Brexit that will do untold damage to our economy.
“No matter how this Government dresses it up, tearing up Britain’s membership of the single market will mean more red tape for business and fewer opportunities for future generations.”
Labour’s former shadow chancellor Chris Leslie, of the Open Britain campaign, described the paper as “a blueprint for hard Brexit”.
“The Government must not be given a blank cheque for hard Brexit,” said Mr Leslie.
“It is vital that Parliament is given a meaningful vote at the end of the Article 50 process that amounts to more than ‘bad deal or no deal’.”
Conservative MP Neil Carmichael indicated that he could be prepared to vote for an opposition amendment to ensure Parliament had a “meaningful role” in the Brexit process when the Bill comes back to the Commons next week.
“I am not prepared to just stand by and watch any old Brexit deal be signed. I think it is really important that Parliament has a meaningful role from now on until any final deal emerges,” he told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One.
“That is through the Great Repeal Bill for example, but it is also through a proper discussion and debate and decision-making process at the end of the two years.”
The white paper makes clear that any new arrangements to control immigration following Brexit could be phased in over time, to give businesses and individuals “enough time to plan and prepare”.
“The UK will always welcome genuine students and those with the skills and expertise to make our nation better still,” said the document, promising “an immigration system that allows us to control numbers and encourage the brightest and the best to come to this country”.
Delivering a smooth and orderly Brexit will require avoiding a “disruptive cliff-edge” departure from the EU, so Britain will consider phasing in any new arrangements in areas ranging from immigration controls and customs systems to business regulation and co-operation on criminal and civil justice matters, said the white paper.
“For each issue, the time we need to phase in the new arrangements may differ; some might be introduced very quickly, some might take longer,” it said.
“And the interim arrangements we rely upon are likely to be a matter of negotiation. The UK will not, however, seek some form of unlimited transitional status. That would not be good for the UK and nor would it be good for the EU.”
The document states that the Government would have liked to resolve the status of the 2.8 million EU nationals living in the UK and 1 million Britons on the Continent before formal Article 50 negotiations got under way.
But it added: “Although many EU member states favour such an agreement, this has not proven possible. The UK remains ready to give people the certainty they want and reach a reciprocal deal with our European partners at the earliest opportunity. It is the right and fair thing to do.”
On trade, the white paper says that Britain’s approach will include “a variety of levers including: bilateral free trade agreements and dialogues with third countries, participation in multilateral and plurilateral negotiations, market access and dispute resolution through the World Trade Organisation, trade remedies, import and export controls, unilateral liberalisation, trade preferences and trade for development”.
And it states: “Without the need to reflect the positions of the EU27, an independent trade policy gives us the opportunity to strike deals better suited to the UK and to make quicker progress with new partners, as well as those where EU negotiations have stalled.”
After the UK has withdrawn itself from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justicee, future cross-border legal disputes could be resolved by a new mechanism such as an arbitration panel established in a free trade agreement, the document suggests.
The white paper restates the Government’s position that there will be no attempt to remain in the EU “by the backdoor” or by holding a second referendum. And it promises that, after Brexit, the UK will still be “reliable partners, willing allies and close friends” with the remaining EU.