Parliamentary debate on Brexit a giveaway to Brussels

Oct 17, 2016
Nick Clegg (left) and Priti Patel.
Nick Clegg (left) and Priti Patel.

UK’s International Development Secretary Priti Patel has likened revealing Britain’s negotiation position during talks with European Union leaders over the country’s departure from the bloc would be akin to revealing her hand in a high-stakes game of poker.

The prominent leave campaigner, who is said to be among the ministers on Theresa May’s Brexit committee, said a debate in the House of Commons over the terms of UK’s departure would give the game away to Brussels.

“If I were to sit down and play poker with you this morning, I’m not going to show you my cards before we even start playing the game,” she told BBC.

Her comments came in the wake of a bid by a powerful cross-party group of MPs to force a parliamentary vote on whether the government should reveal its plans for the UK’s future outside the EU before negotiations begin, spearheaded by former party leaders Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg and including shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, former Tory minister Nick Herbert and leave-backing Conservative MP Stephen Phillips.

The MPs have called for the government to set out its negotiating position before the House before article 50 is triggered.

Patel said MPs would not be denied a say in the Brexit process, including voting on the “great repeal bill” that would transpose EU law onto the British statute book after UK leaves the EU, giving the government the opportunity to examine laws separately and repeal legislation over time if desired.

“We look at everything that happens in Parliament and obviously the debates that were taking place now and the debates that people were alluding to as well,” Patel said.

“We will work with all colleagues. This isn’t about a ‘them or us’ mentality whatsoever; we are listening to colleagues, respectfully.”

Clegg told the same programme on Sunday that MPs were not attempting to subvert the referendum vote.

Clegg said when former UK Premier John Major had to go to the rest of Europe and negotiate the Maastricht treaty, he first put in effect something very similar to a white paper to the House of Commons and said “these are my objectives, this is the way I want to try and approach these talks, will you give me your backing or not?”

Incidentally, said Clegg it was also exactly the same approach that Theresa May took under the coalition government when she negotiated the new deal on police and judicial cooperation in the EU.

“So the precedent is there and it’s a very good precedent because it gives the government of the day much greater authority if it’s negotiating with other governments with the backing of its parliament,” he said.

Clegg said if the proposal was voted down, May would have to “go back and improve her negotiating stance” and said that may entail article 50 being delayed beyond the end of March deadline set by May.

“Yes, and by the way that would be a very good thing anyway because I think Theresa May has made already a fundamental tactical error by saying, frankly just to throw red meat to her backbenchers, that she’s going to trigger article 50 in March of next year because she’s already, in doing so, lost about a quarter of her negotiating timetable because as anybody in Europe – and I speak to many politicians across Europe – will tell you, nothing is going to meaningfully happen until the end of next year after the German elections.”