Brexit row breaks out as MPs block calls for Holyrood vote

A row has broken out over a major report on Brexit after Labour and Conservative MPs blocked calls for the Scottish Parliament to get a vote on the UK's final deal with Brussels.
Theresa May has been urged to make clear if she intends to stay in the single market. Picture: Getty ImagesTheresa May has been urged to make clear if she intends to stay in the single market. Picture: Getty Images
Theresa May has been urged to make clear if she intends to stay in the single market. Picture: Getty Images

A cross-party group of MPs has urged Prime Minister Theresa May to make clear whether she intends to stay in the EU single market and customs union before Brexit talks begin at the end of March.

The Commons exiting the EU committee also warned that UK companies which trade with Europe could move abroad unless a transitional deal is agreed to prevent a “cliff edge” end to single market membership. 
The report said MPs must be guaranteed a vote on the outcome of talks ahead of Brexit taking place in 2019, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland “duly involved” in the negotiation process.

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But last night Labour and the Tories were accused of trying to prevent devolved administrations from having a say after it emerged an amendment that called on the government to seek their “endorsement” for the final Brexit deal was struck down.

The change was backed by Scottish and Welsh nationalists as well as Scottish Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael, but failed to secure the support of a majority on the committee.

It comes as the Supreme Court prepares its verdict, which is expected next week, in a case that will decide whether the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish administrations must be consulted on aspects of Brexit that affect devolved powers.

The Labour government in Wales intervened in the case, and Scottish Labour gave its backing for a similar intervention by the Scottish Government.

SNP MP Tommy Sheppard said: “This vote shows just how little regard Tory and Labour MPs have for Scotland’s interests.

“Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, and whatever Brexit deal the UK negotiates it will have a huge impact on Scotland’s economy, society, and its institutions.

“It is essential that Scotland’s voice is heard in the UK’s negotiations with the EU, that the Scottish Government is involved fully in the negotiations, and that the agreement of the Scottish Parliament is sought on the final deal.”

Scottish Labour’s Westminster spokesman Ian Murray MP responded by accusing the SNP of using Brexit to further the case for independence.

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“Rather than add anything constructive to the discussions about the most important decision for our country since the Second World War, Nationalists are once again playing political games to score cheap points,” he said.

In its first report, the committee said Mrs May must publish a White Paper on her plans for negotiations with Brussels by mid-February, to give MPs a chance to debate it before Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is triggered in March, launching formal negotiations.

The Prime Minister, who is to deliver a major speech on Britain’s post-EU future on Tuesday, agreed to calls from Labour to publish details of her plans for Brexit before triggering Article 50, but has given no commitments on the level of detail.

The committee warned that the task of preparing for Brexit would place a “strain” on departments across government for years to come, and suggested more civil servants may be needed to deal with the “significant challenge”.

And while MPs said transitional arrangements are needed to allow trade to continue if a deal is not reached by the end of the two-year formal negotiation period in 2019, they warned this “will not be in the government’s gift to deliver” if the EU insisted on delaying trade talks until after Brexit.

The report said an abrupt “cliff edge” exit without a new EU trading relationship in place would be “unsatisfactory and potentially damaging”. Access to European markets for financial services must be ensured, MPs said.

The Scottish Government’s lead minister on Brexit, Michael Russell, welcomed a call for the status of Europeans living in the UK to be settled quickly, warning the government “not to use EU citizens as bargaining chips”.