Theresa May is heading to Brussels for her first EU summit as UK prime minister as debate continues over the government’s Brexit strategy.
The PM, who will trigger Brexit talks by the end of March, is expected to tell counterparts she wants a “smooth, constructive, orderly” process.
But she faces more calls to consult MPs before invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to launch those talks.
A Lords committee warned Parliament could be reduced to a “rubber stamp”.
Once Article 50 is triggered, two years of formal negotiations will begin, with the UK set to leave the EU by the summer of 2019.
The summit, which brings together the leaders of EU member states, is not focused on the UK’s withdrawal, with the agenda dominated by migration, trade and Russia, but the subject is still likely to loom large.
A Downing Street source said Mrs May would say “hard work and goodwill” would be needed on both sides during negotiations to secure a smooth UK departure from the EU.
She will stress that Brexit should work for the UK as well as the EU, and reiterate that the UK is not “turning its back on Europe” by leaving.
And she will promise that until it does leave, the UK will be a “responsible, active engaged member” of the EU, citing the need for united approaches towards Russia and Syria.
European leaders have said there can be no talks until Article 50 is triggered, with European Council president Donald Tusk recently saying the EU would not compromise on its insistence that freedom of movement will be a condition for Britain’s access to the single market.
At home, the government is facing fierce criticism from opposition parties – and a landmark legal challenge – over its refusal to offer MPs a vote on its Brexit strategy before triggering Article 50.
Ministers say they welcome scrutiny but do not want MPs and peers to micro-manage the process or compromise the government’s negotiating hand.
‘Find middle ground’
A vote is expected on the final deal reached after the talks, but critics say they are being offered a choice between the government’s deal or no deal at all as, by this stage, the UK would be on the verge of leaving the EU.
In a report, the House of Lords EU committee said Parliament should vote on the government’s negotiation strategy before Article 50, predicting the talks would be “unprecedented in their complexity and their impact upon domestic policy”.
“While the government has an obligation, following the referendum, to deliver Brexit, it seems to us inconceivable that it should take the many far-reaching policy decisions that will arise in the course of Brexit without active parliamentary scrutiny,” it said.
The committee called on the government to “recognise a middle ground between the extremes of micromanagement and mere accountability after the fact”.
Referring to the government’s refusal to offer a “running commentary” on talks, committee chairman Lord Boswell said: “What they offer instead, namely parliamentary scrutiny after the fact, is in reality not scrutiny at all – it could be no more than a rubber stamp.
“That is not good enough.”
Leading Brexit campaigner and former cabinet minister Owen Paterson said Article 50 was simply the “mechanism” to implement the EU referendum result.
“Peers or MPs calling for a vote so they can draw out proceedings in the hope that they can somehow overturn the outcome is an attempt to subvert the verdict the people gave on 23 June,” he said.
He said both Houses would be voting “repeatedly” on the government’s Great Repeal Bill to deal with EU legislation, adding: “Suggesting the government is trying to avoid scrutiny is nonsense.”
Source: BBC News Reference: www.bbc.co.uk/news