MPs have voted to allow Theresa May to get Brexit negotiations under way. But the FT’s Sebastian Payne says those hoping for a comprehensive exit strategy will be disappointed by the government’s white paper.
SEBASTIAN PAYNE: It was all systems go this week, as the House of Commons overwhelmingly voted to trigger Article 50, and the government published it's Brexit white paper. On Wednesday, 498 MPs voted to endorse the government's legislation to give the prime minister the authority to trigger Article 50 and release the brakes on Brexit. Only 114 MPs he voted against the bill, including 47 from the Labour Party, who went against the strict instructions of their leader.
This was an incredible sight. It was unthinkable, even just a few years ago that so many MPs could vote to leave the EU. Paradoxically, a majority of them never wanted to be in this position. Remain-supporting MPs only backed the referendum six times no less, because they never thought they would find themselves voting for Brexit.
Now this crucial piece of legislation will go to the committee stage, where opposition MPs will try to bind the prime minister's hands through amendments. After that, it's up to the House of Lords to do its worst to stall it. But if all goes to plan, Mrs. May hopes the bill will become law on the 7th of March. And she can send the Article 50 notification on the 9th. And then the real debate on Brexit looks like will begin.
Those hoping for a comprehensive Brexit strategy from the government have been disappointed. On Thursday, the infamous Brexit white paper was released, an outline of the government's strategy. But it was pretty shoddy work. There were few details beyond what Mrs. May said in her Lancaster house speech last month.
The government still does not appear to have made those crucial decisions on immigration, the customs union, or how to deal with the Irish border after Brexit. There were mistakes too, an incorrect graph here, an incomprehensible paragraph there. It all had the feel of a slapped together insubstantial product.
While the politics of Brexit are in flux, the economics are looking more positive. The Bank of England raised its growth forecast for 2017 this week, stating that the economy will grow by 2%. It has also held interest rates at a quarter of a percent. But we are not out of the danger zone yet.
It's medium-term forecasts are looking shaky. In 2018, it expects growth to slow to 1.6% due to an expected sluggishness in consumer spending, thanks to rising inflation. Now if this does occur, it would be confirmation that Brexit is having a drag on the UK economy. But if it doesn't, it will give Brexit supporters more ammunition that the bank is being too gloomy, and the UK is doing just fine.