No-show on immigration white paper ahead of Brexit vote ‘unacceptable’ say MPs
Brexit select committee also seeks continued scrutiny role following mooted machinery of government changes
Hilary Benn Credit: PA
The government’s failure to publish its long-promised immigration white paper is “unacceptable”, members of parliament’s Exiting the European Union Select Committee have warned.
In a report published over the weekend, the cross-party panel said that despite “repeated promises” ministers had not revealed the document setting out their thinking on future immigration policy.
Last week home secretary Sajid Javid indicated that the document would not be released ahead of the vote that was planned for tomorrow on Theresa May’s EU withdrawal agreement, although this has now been cancelled. The committee said it was one of a host of fundamental choices that ministers had failed to make about the UK’s future.
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The report also called on the government to set out its estimates for the UK’s future financial liabilities to the European Union under the various options for an extended transition/implementation period that the draft withdrawal agreement contains.
The government’s previous estimate of liabilities was £35-39bn, but MPs said estimates of how any extension period would affect the assessment should be set out before the division bell.
Elsewhere, committee chair Hilary Benn said the political declaration accompanying the draft withdrawal agreement was “neither detailed nor substantive” despite repeated assurances from Brexit secretaries David Davis and Dominic Raab.
“It does not give the British people or our businesses the clarity and the certainty they need about our future trading relationship with the EU in five or 10 years’ time,” he said.
“And with these negotiations having not even started yet, this could take years to sort out.”
The report said that the declaration contained “insufficient detail” for committee members to decide whether all but one of the 15 tests they previously set on future trade, security and cooperation with the EU had been met.
Benn said many aspects of the withdrawal agreement represented a “huge step into the unknown” because the government had “refused to face up to” hard choices confronting the nation. However he said the report aimed to provide an up-to-date summary on the government's progress towards Brexit.
“It is now time for colleagues to decide on the prime minister’s deal,” he said. “Throughout this process, the select committee has always argued for parliament to be given a full and proper role, and a vote on what has been negotiated.”
New Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay told the committee’s 3 December evidence session that moving to the next phase of EU exit would “undoubtedly” require an amended governance structure in Whitehall, and that the issue was under discussion with the prime minister and other colleagues.
“There will be a lot of different work streams and there is the mere fact that we will be outside the EU institutions, so the prime minister’s own interaction outside of those institutions will change,” he said.
MPs said that regardless of the future of the Department for Exiting the European Union and wider machinery of government changes, it was vital that a select committee remained dedicated to overseeing the Brexit and negotiations on the future relationship with the EU.
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