Public should be kept in the dark over Brexit talks, Lords claim

MPs and members of the House of Lords should be told what the Government plans to do about Brexit – even if the public has to be kept in the dark, it’s been claimed.

The proposal came from members of the Lords including Hilary Armstrong, the former MP for North West Durham.

They said Ministers should tell Select Committees in both Houses of Parliament about the proposals it plans to put to the EU about Brexit, so that they have a chance to offer recommendations.

But documents and other information given to the committees could be regarded as “confidential information” which cannot be made public.

The Government has insisted that Parliament will have a say on Brexit only after decisions have been taken, and insists that it would make negotiations with the EU harder if Ministers provided a “running commentary”.

But the proposal from the House of Lords EU Committee is designed to provide a compromise.

Hilary Armstrong, Labour's chief whip at the launch of the Labour Party's local election campaign Hilary Armstrong, Labour’s chief whip at the launch of the Labour Party’s local election campaign

Committee members said there is “too much at stake” for the Government to begin negotiations about leaving the EU without consulting members of Parliament at all.

Meanwhile, Brexit Secretary David Davis has admitted businesses face a damaging “cliff edge” if the Government misses its two-year deadline for striking a fresh EU trade deal.

He agreed with an MP who said businesses would suffer if agreement could not be reached by March 2019.

Theresa May, the Prime Minister, has announced the UK will trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the formal mechanism for leaving the EU, by the end of March next year.

It will mark the start of formal negotiations about Brexit, and the process is meant to last within two years.

But if no new trade deal is agreed, the UK and EU could fall back on default trade rules agreed by the World Trade Organisation – which would allow trade between UK businesses and the EU to continue, but could mean that firms have to pay a tariff on exports.

Quizzing the Brexit Secretary, Labour MP Emma Reynolds said: “Our European partners have so far refused to say that they will enter trade talks alongside our article 50 negotiations. What will the Government and the Secretary of State do to avoid the cliff edge in March 2019, when we leave the EU, of our falling out of the EU single market and back on World Trade Organisation rules?”

He told her that negotiations would take place, adding: “That is what we will have because, as she quite rightly says, we need to conclude them within two years to avoid any cliff edge.”

Earlier this month, business leaders including the CBI and manufacturers’ body the EEF wrote an open letter to Ministers calling for barrier-free trade with Europe to be preserved.

They warned: “Falling into World Trade Organisation rules in only 29 months from now, which is the prospective timetable, would mean up to 90 per cent of goods could potentially have tariffs on them.”

Mr Davis also has accused Labour of damaging the national interest by pressing the Government to reveal more about its Brexit negotiating strategy.

He adopted a defensive tone as Labour’s Jenny Chapman, MP for Darlington, suggested he is unable to give a “straight answer” when challenged about how much the UK will continue paying to the EU after it leaves.

Mr Davis refused to answer the question before later claiming the Opposition is seeking to put the UK’s strategy at a “disadvantaged position” compared to the EU.

He said: “I’m afraid what they do is rather seriously knock to the country’s interests from time to time.”

He quoted negotiating guidelines from the European Commission, which state it is “entirely normal” for the talks and texts not to be made public with a level of confidentiality needed to protect the EU’s interests and “to keep chances for a satisfactory outcome high”.

Mr Davis said the EU stresses it does not reveal its “entire strategy” from the outset, adding: “What the Opposition is trying to do is to put ours in a disadvantaged position to the European Union.

“That is not in the national interest.”

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