Hilary Benn: I won't try to obstruct Britain's exit from the EU

Chair of MPs’ committee scrutinising Brexit says it will push government to ‘minimise uncertainty’ and so limit economic impact

Hilary Benn campaigning for remain in June.

Hilary Benn campaigning in June. ‘I campaigned for remain, but I accept the result,’ he said.
Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty

The chair of the parliamentary committee scrutinising Brexit, Hilary Benn, has said his pro-EU views do not mean he will seek to obstruct the UK’s exit from the European Union.

“Parliament has a job to scrutinise the process of our withdrawal from the European Union. I campaigned for remain, but I accept the referendum result,” he said.

Speaking the day after he was elected by fellow MPs to lead the exiting the European Union select committee, Benn told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the committee would push the government to “minimise uncertainty” about the future and thus limit the economic impact of the process.

“This is going to be the most complex, the most challenging task that the nation has faced in peace time, since the end of the second world war.

“It’s going to affect all areas of our national life, and parliament needs to be sure that the government has got a plan, and that negotiations are successful in trying to get the best deal for the United Kingdom, while honouring the decision that the British people have made.”

In the election on Wednesday, Benn comfortably won the chair’s role over his opponent, Kate Hoey, a fellow Labour MP who backed leave in the referendum in June. She gained 209 votes to his 330.

The former shadow foreign secretary also said it was vital for parliament to have the final say over an eventual deal. “Since during the referendum one of the arguments for leaving was it would restore our sovereignty, it is inconceivable that parliament shouldn’t use this sovereignty – which, by the way, it had anyway – to determine what thinks of the deal, this complex negotiation, when it is finally completed,” said Benn.

The “big issue” would be the tradeoff between controls on EU migration and some access to bloc’s single market, Benn said, noting the concerns over this by carmaker Nissan. “One of the tasks it seems to me that the government has got, and the nation has got, is we need where we can to minimise uncertainty,” he said.

“Although some people may argue that in the space of two years we can negotiate both the withdrawal from the European Unions, all the mechanics, and reach an agreement on a new deal governing trade and access for our services – I somehow doubt we’ll do that in two years.”

Thus, Benn said, the government needed to “make it absolutely clear that it will seek a transitional agreement” on trade with the EU, to ensure that after the departure process is over, the UK will not default to working on unfavourable World Trade Organisation rules.

With Theresa May repeatedly saying she will not give a “running commentary” on the government’s plans for Brexit, Benn said it was “a very good question” how his committee would scrutinise the process.

“Nobody is asking the government to reveal its detail negotiation tactics, and certainly no one’s asking for a running commentary, but parliament is entitled to say to the government: OK, what are your negotiating objectives?” he said.

Benn added: “I’m very clear that parliament will want to have a say, both in scrutinising what the negotiating plan is when it’s published, but also parliament will want to take a decision on the final deal.”

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