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'Waffle' taunts as Brexit Secretary David Davis gives little away in Commons

Published 05/09/2016

MPs will consider demands for a second referendum
MPs will consider demands for a second referendum

Theresa May's Government is "making it up as it goes along" when it comes to deciding its Brexit strategy, Labour has claimed.

Opposition MPs shouted "waffle" as Brexit Secretary David Davis delivered a lengthy speech short on specific details about the Government's plan following June's referendum.

Shadow Brexit secretary Emily Thornberry described the Commons statement as containing "empty platitudes ".

In his opening remarks, Mr Davis said Brexit is about "get ting the best deal for Britain" with something that is unique rather than an "off-the-shelf solution".

He also said withdrawal from the EU is not about "making the best of a bad job" as he pledged to secure a "national consensus".

Responding for Labour, Ms Thornberry told Mr Davis: "The spin before today's statement was so much promise - we heard we were going to hear what the Government's strategy for Brexit was.

"But what we've heard instead hasn't been a strategy, it hasn't been a thought out plan, it's just been more empty platitudes from a Government that just continues to make it up as it goes along.

"So last night we had the Prime Minister seemingly on a plane telling us what she wasn't going to be doing.

"It seems we're not going to have a points-based immigration system and we're not going to have any extra money for the NHS and we're not going to have any reduction in VAT on fuel.

"But what we haven't been told is what they're going to do.

"When are they going to tell us how they're going to deliver, for example, free trade for British businesses while also opposing immigration controls - let alone how they're going to address the red lines Labour has demanded on the protection of workers' rights and guarantees for EU citizens?"

Mr Davis, flanked by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, insisted there will be n o attempt to "delay, frustrate or thwart" the will of the British people for the country to leave the EU.

In his statement to MPs, he said: "Naturally, people want to know what Brexit will mean.

"Simply, it means leaving the European Union. So we will decide on our borders, our laws and the taxpayers' money.

"It means getting the best deal for Britain - one that's unique to Britain and not an off-the-shelf solution.

"This must mean controls on the numbers of people who come to Britain from Europe, but also a positive outcome for those who wish to trade in goods and services."

Mr Davis said the UK will "take the time needed to get it right" when it comes to negotiating with the EU, adding: "We will strive to build a national consensus around our approach."

He said the UK will also seek to "act in good faith" towards EU countries and his Brexit department now has more than 180 staff in London plus "expertise" from more than 120 officials in Brussels.

The Tory frontbencher also said most of those he has spoken to who backed Remain have now accepted the result.

He told MPs: " Indeed, organisations and individuals I have met already that backed the Remain campaign now want to be engaged in the process of exit and are identifying the positive changes that will flow from it as well as the challenges.

"I want us all to come together as one nation to get the best deal for Britain."

Ms Thornberry also suggested that MPs should be given a vote on the triggering of Article 50 which kicks off the formal two-year process for Brexit, with the Government having indicated that it does not believe such a vote is needed, and that the decision can be taken by the Prime Minister.

Mr Davis accused Ms Thornberry of a "pseudo-democratic masquerade" which he described as the "most anti-democratic proposal I have heard for some time".

"She wants to deny the will of the British people, and up with that we will not put," he said.

Meanwhile, Iain Duncan Smith, the former work and pensions secretary, sought confirmation from Mr Davis that control of the UK's borders will be "absolutely not negotiable" during talks with Brussels.

Mr Davis replied: "In the referendum that we have just had, the biggest mandate ever given to a British government, a clear large part of it was the question of immigration, and the Prime Minister has made it very plain that the current state of immigration cannot go on and we will bring it to an end as a part of this process."

Pro-EU Tory heavyweight Ken Clarke prompted laughter from the opposition benches after he congratulated Mr Davis for "not rushing anything, and I encourage him to take as long with his colleagues as he possibly can in working out a policy".

"I look forward to hearing from him again when the Government have found something they can agree on which indicates what Brexit actually means," he said.

Labour former frontbencher Yvette Cooper bemoaned the apparent lack of detail given by Mr Davis, as she asked if the Government intended for the UK to stay a part of the Europol law enforcement agency.

She said: "No one expects you to have worked out all of the answers yet but we do expect you to be able to set out the outline of some kind of plan and today we have heard nothing on that."

Mr Davis said the "aim is to preserve the relationship with the European Union on security matters as best we can".

Mr Davis also touched on the crucial issue of the UK's access to the single market.

He said access is "not really up for grabs, it's there for everybody" and that many countries from outside of the EU "do a better job" of benefiting from it than the UK does now.

Responding to the ministerial statement in the House of Lords, opposition spokesman Lord Collins of Highbury branded it unacceptable that the PM had "taken the undemocratic step" of refusing to guarantee Parliament a vote on triggering Article 50 - which will begin the formal two-year process of leaving the EU.

He said: "It is vital Parliament is engaged in this process."

Lord Collins said the Government had to set out to both Parliament and the public what its view of a successful outcome to the Brexit negotiation looked like.

He also warned against EU citizens living in the UK being used a "bargaining tool" in the process.

Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Ludford was critical of the lack of detail provided by the Government.

She said: "I do fear we have not got much beyond the slogans that 'Brexit means Brexit' and 'We'll make a success of Brexit'."

Lady Ludford also argued there should be a parliamentary vote on triggering Article 50.

While not seeking a re-run of the June 23 referendum, she added: "The need for public endorsement of a Brexit deal is entirely different.

"That is essential because it will be the first time voters get any chance to evaluate the reality and not the fantasy of Brexit."

Labour former cabinet minister Lord Hain also criticised the "astoundingly vacuous" Government statement.

He said: "We haven't a clue what the Government's agenda is."

He pressed for a parliamentary vote on the final deal, which should then be put to the people.

Conservative former cabinet minister Lord Hailsham said there would be "nothing undemocratic or inappropriate" about seeking the views of voters on leaving the EU, based on the negotiated terms.

Parliament also had a right to be consulted in detail on the Brexit discussions and given a vote, he argued.

But this was dismissed by Brexit minister Lord Bridges of Headley.

The Conservative frontbencher said: "We intend to see Brexit through."

He pointed out the Tory manifesto had committed to respect the outcome of the referendum and added that Parliament had voted to hold the vote by a wide margin.

The minister was supported by Labour peer Lord Grocott, who said the public vote to leave the EU had to be honoured.

For Parliament to have a vote on whether or not to implement Article 50 would be a "very, dangerous and profoundly undemocratic route for us to take", he said.

But Tory Lord Cormack argued it was "essential" Parliament voted on the finalised terms.

He said: "It is absolutely crucial the elected House of Commons has the final say in that regard."

On remaining a member of the single market, Mr Davis told the Commons: " This Government is looking at every option.

"The simple truth is, if a requirement of membership is giving up control of our borders, I think that makes it very improbable."

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