What is a White Paper, why is one being produced for Brexit and what happens next?
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After pressure from MPs, Theresa May has announced a White Paper will be produced before a Bill on Brexit is put to Parliament. The move follows the Government’s loss in its Supreme Court appeal to take Britain out of the EU on its own – meaning the process must be considered and voted on in Parliament. So what is a White Paper exactly? Why has there been such an appetite for one? And what happens next?
What is a White Paper?It’s a policy document which lays out in depth the Government’s proposals for future legislation or law changes. These documents are often published and lay out plans for a parliamentary Bill – this allows the plans to be considered carefully by MPs and anyone else affected by its contents before an official bill is presented to Parliament.
Why did MPs want one for Brexit?Scrutiny and clarity. The Brexit White Paper will lay out in writing the Government’s plans to leave the European Union. This will give MPs something physical they can scrutinise rather than relying on indications from Theresa May’s Brexit speech last week – before they are presented with a parliamentary Bill.
Who was calling for one?Shadow Brexit Secretary, Labour’s Keir Starmer, spoke out in the House of Commons calling for the Government to produce a “detailed plan” on Brexit last month – before calling on Tuesday specifically for a White Paper. However, this was a desire which had cross-party calls. Tories insisted their demands stem from the Exiting the EU Select Committee – which included both Labour and Conservative MPs – and even criticised Labour for not explicitly asking for one sooner. For politicians the issue had been a subject of division, but for some commentators there were feelings of disbelief the Government even had to be asked to produce one.
What will happen next?After a White Paper is produced by the Government a Bill presented to Parliament will soon follow. This Bill will propose Britain’s exit from the EU and the indication is this will be produced within days and likely this week. Bill’s can either go before the House of Commons or House of Lords first, but the Brexit Bill will certainly start in the Commons. The first stage of this process will be the first reading, where the Brexit Bill will be read out in brief before being published. The second reading follows soon after and this is when the Brexit Bill will be first officially debated in Parliament by MPs and alternate ideas are put forward. At the end of this discussion MPs will vote on whether the Bill should progress to the next stage – the Committee Stage. At the Committee Stage the Bills have their specifics examined in detail by a cross-party team set up specifically to discuss the Bill, with the thoughts of experts and interest groups also considered. The scope of interest with the Brexit Bill means there may be many groups referred to, but this will lead to a report being put before Parliament in the next stage. Finally in the Commons there will be a third reading where the now-amended Bill is debated by Parliament on its exact wording and contents before a vote. The Bill will then go through the entire process again in the House of Lords, after which their amendments – if they have any – will be considered. If all this goes well the Bill receives royal assent from the Queen and will be ratified. How long this entire process takes depends on the reaction of MPs, but it will be given special priority by Parliament to be passed quickly. The Government will want the Bill passed quickly – their opposition and opposing parties, offering amendments and changes, will not. However, given the Conservative’s majority in Parliament, it is very unlikely the Bill will be blocked altogether.
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