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UK PM May says government will publish white paper on Brexit

In a U-turn, Prime Minister Theresa May has announced there is to be a policy document setting out proposals for future legislation on Brexit. But she did not say when the white paper would be published.

After losing an appeal in Britain's highest court on Tuesday about the need to consult parliament over launching Britain's exit from the European Union, May appeared to give in to pressure from leading members of her Conservative Party on Wednesday for a policy document on her Brexit plans.

She made the announcement in answer to a question from a member of her own Conservative Party on Wednesday, during Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs).

"I recognize that there is an appetite in this house to see that plan set out in a white paper," she said. “I can confirm to the house that our plan will be set out in a white paper published in this house."

Timing of bill and white paper

May did not say when the policy document would be published - before or after a vote on the bill triggering Article 50 to start the two-year process for Britain to negotiate its way out of the EU, required as a result of Tuesday's Supreme Court ruling.

After PMQs, May's spokeswoman said the government would publish its Article 50 legislation on Thursday, but did not give any details of the likely timeframe for its progress through parliament. May has previously indicated that she intended to start talks with the EU by the end of March.  

For the white paper policy document, the spokeswoman would only say that it would be published "in due course."

Ahead of the announcement, up to 20 lawmakers from May's Conservative Party were reported to be prepared to back an amendment from the opposition Labour Party to the upcoming bill on Article 50 calling on May to issue a white paper.

Opposition Labour Party members of parliament (MPs) had demanded access to information before being asked to vote on the bill triggering Article 50. 

Little opposition

The Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that the government could only invoke Article 50 with a vote in parliament. Previously, PM May had intended to use her executive powers, known as the "Royal Prerogative," to do so. Yet triggering Article 50 is unlikely to meet with much opposition once it reaches the lower house, as the Labour Party has said it would only abstain. 

While May's critics and opponents have cited Wednesday's decision by the prime minister as a sign of weakness, vaccilation and a major concession, the process of the UK leaving the EU does not greatly change.

The white paper is expected to contain the same information that May has been giving out since the referendum last June. "We have set out the government's plan for negotiating our exit from the EU, our 12 objectives, we can expect it to reflect that," May's spokeswoman said. 

jm/msh (Reuters, AFP)

 

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