Parliament backs Theresa May’s plans to start Brexit negotiations in March.
Labour agreed to back the prime minister’s timetable for Brexit but insisted Mrs May should first publish a detailed negotiating strategy. Some pro-EU Conservative MPs said a white paper, a thorough policy document, should be produced in the new year.
Mrs May’s allies said the prime minister would not give away her negotiating hand and that any “plan” would be limited in scope. But MPs were reassured they would have the last word on Brexit, with David Davis, Brexit secretary, saying it was “inconceivable” they would not have a vote on a final deal.
The same package will also be put to national parliaments in the other 27 EU member states and to the European Parliament.
However, by the time MPs have their vote they are likely to be presented with a “take it or leave it” question. If they reject a deal, Britain could end up leaving the EU in 2019 in a “hard Brexit” with no package in place to ease the transition.
Mr Davis said of the proposed vote: “That is what I expect, it is as simple as that.” He added that the Westminster vote would refer only to the terms of the deal, and not the principle of leaving the EU.
His comments came during a debate on a Labour motion requiring the government to publish its Brexit objectives before negotiations start, although it gave Mrs May a “get out” clause by saying this should not undermine her negotiating position.
The prime minister agreed to the motion but published an amendment — backed by Labour — that both endorsed her plan to activate Article 50 next March and recognised the result of June’s referendum.
MPs backed Mrs May’s amendment overwhelmingly with only 89 voting against — a majority of 372. Just one Tory, former chancellor Ken Clarke, opposed it. The Labour motion itself also won the support of most parliamentarians — just 75 voted against.
Angus MacNeil, the SNP MP, said: “No answers is not a black Brexit or a white Brexit. It’s not a red, white and blue Brexit. No answers is a yellow Brexit. It’s a cowardly Brexit.”
The Liberal Democrats also opposed the amendment. Tim Farron the Lib Dem leader, called it a “parliamentary stitch-up” that failed to “include any meaningful commitment from the Conservative Brexit government to produce the equivalent of a white or green paper setting out its position on such fundamental questions as to whether it wants Britain to remain in the single market”.
Mr Clarke said the government was using the word “plan” in “an extremely vague way” and called on Mr Davis to set out “the strategic objectives the government is pursuing” and submit them to a vote by MPs before triggering Article 50.
Anna Soubry, a former Tory business minister, said: “It is bigger than egos, ideology and playing silly games. This is serious, grown-up stuff. That would mean a white paper for me, or at least a serious document.”
David Lidington, the leader of the House who was standing in for Mrs May at prime minister’s questions, said any MP who voted against the motion “will, in my view, be seeking to thwart the result of the referendum in the most profoundly undemocratic way”.
During the debate Keir Starmer, Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, set out five tests he believed any plan the government published should meet. These included the requirement that it should be detailed enough for the Office for Budget Responsibility to be able to “do its job”.
The OBR said at the time of last month’s Autumn Statement that it had insufficient detail about the government’s Brexit intentions to be able to forecast the consequences in detail.
Meanwhile, Mr Davis said there were “several options” related to the customs union that Britain could consider in its future EU relations. He cited Norway’s position in the single market but not in the customs union, and Switzerland, which was “neither in the customs union nor in the single market but has a customs agreement”.
Although parliament has now backed the activation of Article 50 next spring, Downing Street says this is not an attempt to get around a possible defeat in the Supreme Court on the issue. If the Supreme Court upholds a High Court ruling that parliament — not the government — should activate Article 50, legal experts believe primary legislation will be required.
The vote on Wednesday arises from a non-binding Labour opposition motion but Mrs May’s team argues it will be hard for MPs to reverse their support for triggering Article 50 next March if they have already voted for it.
The prime minister is said to be “highly confident” she will be able to start formal Brexit negotiations next March whatever the outcome of the Supreme Court case, with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier calling fo