May urged to publish White Paper on Brexit strategy before Commons vote
Theresa May is facing demands for a White Paper setting out her plans for Brexit to be published before a crucial Commons vote to clear the way for EU withdrawal talks.
Mrs May surprised the House of Commons by announcing at Prime Minister's Questions that she will set out her negotiating objectives in a formal document.
Labour described the announcement as a "significant and welcome U-turn", after Downing Street spent weeks resisting calls for a White Paper from MPs on all sides of the House.
But a spokesman for leader Jeremy Corbyn insisted it was vital that the document is available in time for MPs to consider it before they vote on whether the Government should be allowed to trigger the two-year negotiation process under Article 50 of the EU treaties.
Meanwhile, Labour indicated it will put forward amendments to the Article 50 Bill designed to ensure that MPs are given a "meaningful" vote on any eventual deal with the EU, after Mrs May indicated that a No vote at the end of the process would mean Britain reverting to World Trade Organisation terms, which would include tariffs on many exports.
Mrs May told MPs at Prime Minister's Questions she would ensure they had every opportunity to scrutinise the Brexit plans, which she first set out in a keynote speech at Lancaster House last week.
"I recognise that there is an appetite in this House to see that plan set out in a White Paper," said the PM.
"I can confirm to the House that our plan will be set out in a White Paper published in this House."
Mrs May made clear that she regarded the Article 50 debate as "a separate question" from the publication of what she said would be " a bold vision for Britain for the future".
The PM's official spokeswoman later said that the White Paper would be published "in due course", but made no commitment that MPs would see it before the crucial Article 50 vote.
A Bill to approve the triggering of negotiations will be published on Thursday, following the Supreme Court's rejection on Tuesday of the Government's case that Mrs May could invoke Article 50 under prerogative powers without first seeking MPs' consent.
No timetable has yet been set out to debate and vote on the Bill in the Commons and Lords, though the PM's spokeswoman pointed out that parliamentary time was available as early as next week.
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the announcement of a White Paper represented a "significant and welcome U-turn" by the Prime Minister.
"This U-turn comes just 24 hours after (Brexit Secretary) David Davis seemed to rule out a white paper, and failed to answer repeated questions from MPs on all sides of the House," he said.
"The Prime Minister now needs to confirm that this W hite Paper will be published in time to inform the Article 50 process, and that it will clear up the inconsistencies, gaps and risks outlined in her speech."
Meanwhile, Mrs May indicated that a No vote by MPs at the end of Brexit negotiations would mean Britain leaving the EU without a deal.
In what appeared to be a reference to the option of WTO terms, she said: "We would have to fall back on other arrangements."
Asked whether there might be an option for MPs to vote to remain in the EU rather than accept a bad deal, the PM's spokeswoman later said: "We are not going to give them an alternative which would be against the will of the British people."
A senior Labour source later told reporters: "We have made clear that the final vote has to be a meaningful one, in that the Government can be sent back to continue negotiations if it is rejected.
"The refusal to agree to that lays out part of the Government's real agenda, which is that a default position is better than a deal she doesn't like - that default position is a bargain basement tax haven which would be bad for Britain."