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What the papers say: The verdict on the Government’s Brexit White Paper

3 February 2017

8:43 AM

3 February 2017

8:43 AM

What does the Government’s Brexit White Paper – which was unveiled yesterday – actually tell us? ‘Nothing and everything’, says the Guardian, which accuses ministers of dishing up a document stuffed with ‘platitudes and empty rhetoric’. But for all the lightness of detail, the White Paper reveals a bigger truth: a ‘troubling form of politics, where ministers can pursue their interest without compromise’. The Guardian says the published document offers ‘no scrutiny’ and nothing but ‘contempt’ for Parliament. What’s also obvious, the paper says, is that Theresa May is in ‘thrall to her own headbangers’ – something made clear in the passage in the White Paper which leaves open the possibility of Britain failing to strike a deal with the EU and walking away with nothing. It’s time to hold the Government to account, the Guardian concludes – ‘Labour and Tory rebels should… profitably join hands over the issue’ to finally hold Theresa May’s feet to the fire.

The Sun largely disagrees with that view of yesterday’s White Paper – calling the document ‘excellent’. Yet the paper does condition that praise by mentioning what it thinks was a troubling inclusion in the paper: the thought that Brexit might not end free movement after all. The Sun says the Government’s report hinted at such a prospect. But if Britain doesn’t regain full control of its borders, the paper says, ministers will be scoring a ‘huge own-goal’. The Government should be aware of the consequences of ‘Leavers’ sense of betrayal’ if Brexit doesn’t mean ‘full control over immigration,’ the paper warns.

Those who were after more detail in yesterday’s White Paper will have been left ‘disappointed’, the Times says. Yet contained within the Government’s negotiation strategy was an ‘important development’ – the revelation that ‘separate bills and white papers on Britain’s customs and immigration policy post-Brexit’ will be put before Parliament. This is good news, the Times suggests, saying that ‘moderates in all parties’ will now finally get the chance to ‘argue consistently and cogently for sensible compromise over ideological purity’ – even if that’s exactly the opposite of what the Labour party has managed to do so far. As well as this, there was also the ‘kernel’ of a more sensible position on Brexit than some of the Government’s critics would have us believe was being mapped out. On the current zero per cent tariffs which exist on goods shipped between Europe and the UK, for instance, the White Paper says the aim is to find ‘the best way for this to continue’. It’s also true what Brexit secretary David Davis says about Britain going into these talks from a position of strength. The White Paper was published on the same day that the Bank of England upped its growth forecast for the UK economy, – making it clear that Davis’ claim ‘is no idle boast’, the Times concludes.

The race against the Brexit clock has started, says the FT, which offers a less optimistic assessment of Britain’s position going into talks with the EU. ‘While the UK needs to make swift progress towards a trade deal in order to offer businesses certainty, EU negotiators have every reason to delay,’ the paper says. After all, the FT points out, with every moment that goes by, the other side’s leverage increases. If such a delay drags on for long enough, the reality is that MPs could end up voting on a Brexit deal ‘without knowing what will follow after’ – hardly an ideal scenario, the paper says. So what can be done to avoid, in Theresa May’s own phrase, falling off a cliff? The reality is, says the FT, that a transitional deal is needed to reassure businesses. But what would such a deal look like? The paper says the only one that is realistic to imagine is ‘an extension of the status quo’ – which means staying put in the customs union – until a more finalised deal can be worked out.


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