Brexit plan will not be published before February - David Davis
The Government will not set out its plan for Brexit before February and may not publish a white paper before Article 50 is triggered, David Davis has said.
The Brexit Secretary said Whitehall was still conducting preparatory work ahead of the start of negotiations with the European Union, which Theresa May has promised to begin before the end of March.
Mr Davis also opened the door to a transitional deal with the EU and expressed confidence that both the terms of departure and a new trade agreement could be secured within 18 months from March.
Last week, under pressure from MPs, the Government agreed to publish its plan before Article 50 is invoked.
Labour wanted the plan to be released in January in order to give MPs the opportunity to scrutinise the Government’s prioritised before negotiations begin.
But in an appearance before the Brexit Select Committee today, Mr Davis said that would not be possible.
He told MPs: “It won’t be next month. The policy work is still underway; there are quite a few decisions still to be made.
“We’ve carried out or are in the midst of carrying out about 57, I think, sectoral analyses, each of which has implications for individual parts of 85% of the economy, and some of those are still to be concluded; we have work still to be done on justice and home affairs, so there is a fair number of things still to do. So it will be as soon as we’re ready.”
He also dampened the prospect of the plan being published as a white paper, but said a decision on the format would be made closer to the release date.
“The first thing I have to do, as you will remember from the motion, one of the constrictions of the Government’s amended motion... was that I should do it in such a way that it does not undermine our negotiation position, so we’ve got to be very careful about what we do publish. I want us to be as open as we can be but we must be sure we’re not undermining our own position.”
Michel Barnier, who has been appointed to be the European Commission’s lead negotiator in the talks, has said the deal must be in place within 18 months in order to leave enough time for it to be ratified.
Mr Davis said it was “all negotiable in that time” – and that was why the preparations in Whitehall were taking so long.
Chancellor Philip Hammond told a different committee on Monday that it would be “generally helpful” to have a transitional arrangement.
The Financial Times had previously reported that Mr Davis had told a private meeting he was “not really interested” in a transition period because it could delay Brexit.
But he refused to rule out a “bridge” period today, so long as the final Brexit situation was determined beforehand.
Mr Davis said: “Whatever the transitional arrangement is, we need to know where we’re going before we decide on the transition. If you build a bridge, you need to have both sides established before you build the bridge. So we need to know where we’re going; it seems to me perfectly possible to know what the end game will be within two years.”
Asked to clarify whether he could countenance supporting a transitional phase, he replied: “[An] Implementation phase if it’s necessary and only if it’s necessary, yes.”