MPs on the cross-party Exiting the European Union Committee have concluded that the Government should publish its Brexit plan by mid-February at the latest. This should set out its position on membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union.
Ministers should also seek an outline framework on the UK's future trading relationship with the EU as part of the Article 50 negotiations – including appropriate transitional arrangements – if it is not possible to reach a final agreement by the time the UK leaves the EU.
The Committee also wants the Government to commit to Parliament having a vote on the final Treaty.
The Chair of the Committee Hilary Benn MP said:
"This is going to be a hugely complex task and the outcome will affect us all. The Government needs to publish its Brexit plan by mid-February at the latest, including its position on membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union, so that it can be scrutinised by Parliament and the public.
Ministers should aim to conclude negotiations on trade and market access with the EU-27 by the end of the Article 50 process. However, if a final ratified agreement is not reached by the time the UK leaves the EU, it would be in the interests of both sides to agree a provisional outline framework on the UK's future trading relationship with the EU. The Government should seek appropriate transitional arrangements in the interests of business in the UK and the EU-27.
Whatever deal is concluded, Parliament must be given a vote on it and the Government should make this clear now."
The Committee warns that a return to tariffs and other regulatory and bureaucratic impediments to trade would not be in the interests of UK or European businesses and therefore the Government should strive to ensure that this does not happen.
Given the importance of the financial services industry to the UK economy in terms of jobs and tax revenues, the MPs also argue that the Government should seek to ensure continued access to EU markets in financial services for UK providers whether by way of a continuation of passporting or mutual recognition of regulatory equivalence or some other means. Both the UK and the EU-27 benefit from the presence in London of a world class financial services hub and ensuring that there is minimal disruption to services from Brexit will be important for broader European financial stability.
Security and foreign policy cooperation
It is essential that mutually beneficial cooperation on defence, foreign policy, security, financial crime and the fight against terrorism is not brought to an abrupt end by Brexit. If it is not possible to conclude an agreement on cooperation in Justice and Home Affairs and Common Foreign and Security Policy before the UK leaves the EU, transitional arrangements in these areas will also be needed.
The Government's negotiating plan
The Committee welcomes the Prime Minister's assurance that Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise the Government's negotiating plan, but in order to do that the plan must be published in sufficient time before the triggering of Article 50. The Committee therefore wants to see the Government's plan for Brexit by the middle of February 2017 at the latest, in the form of a White Paper.
Hilary Benn MP added:
"We're not asking the Government to give away its red lines or negotiating fall back positions, but we do want clarity on its broad aims given the significance and complexity of the negotiating task. This White Paper must be published by mid-February to give Parliament and the devolved governments time to scrutinise it."
Involving the devolved Governments
While it is clear that no part of the UK has a veto over the outcome of the negotiations, it is essential that all the devolved governments, and the different regions of England, are duly involved in the process and have their views taken into account. The proposed Great Repeal Bill, and the procedure with which it is dealt, will need to be consistent with the existing devolution settlement.
It is essential that stability in Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement are not jeopardised by the UK's exit from the EU. The Executive and the Assembly in Northern Ireland should be duly involved at every stage in the process. In the light of current developments in Northern Ireland, a way will have to be found to make this happen.
The Role of Parliament in approving the final deal
Although the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 provides the House of Commons with powers to withhold ratification of Treaties, this is not a satisfactory way of dealing with such an important Treaty. The Government should make it clear now that Parliament will have a vote on the Treaty and that the timetable for this vote will allow for proper consideration of any deal that is negotiated.
Uniquely for a House of Commons Select Committee, Members from all four nations of the UK are represented on the Exiting the EU Committee– reflecting the importance of voices from each of the component parts of the UK in this process.
Article 50 provides that "The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification […] unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period".