Labour’s chal­lenge ex­poses May woes over EU

Tory rebels ready to join re­bel­lion over fixed date

Yorkshire Post - - FRONT PAGE - KATE LANGSTON WEST­MIN­STER COR­RE­SPON­DENT ■ Email: ■ Twit­ter: @Kate_Langston

THE EX­TENT of the chal­lenge fac­ing Theresa May in her ef­forts to pass the next cru­cial piece of Brexit leg­is­la­tion was yes­ter­day laid bare af­ter Labour con­firmed it would op­pose the Gov­ern­ment’s at­tempts to fix the ex­act date of Bri­tain’s exit in law.

The an­nounce­ment by the Shadow Brexit Min­is­ter Paul Blom­field came amid re­ports that up to 20 Tory MPs were pre­par­ing to rebel on the amend­ment, warn­ing that it could “tie our hands” in ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Speak­ing dur­ing last night’s marathon de­bate in the Com­mons, the for­mer At­tor­ney Gen­eral Do­minic Grieve be­came one of the first back­benchers to con­firm that he would not vote in favour of the mo­tion, dis­miss­ing it as “mad”.

His act of de­fi­ance co­in­cided with a warn­ing from Par­lia­ment’s spend­ing watch­dog that Brexit could prove “cat­a­strophic” for Bri­tish busi­nesses un­less the right cus­toms sys­tems were put in place.

MPs have tabled al­most 400 amend­ments to the EU With­drawal Bill, with eight days set aside for de­bate be­tween now and Christ­mas.

One of the most sig­nif­i­cant pro­pos­als is a Tory mo­tion call­ing for a Par­lia­men­tary vote on the fi­nal Brexit deal which has gained sub­stan­tial cross-party sup­port.

The Gov­ern­ment looks to have seen off a po­ten­tial re­bel­lion by an­nounc­ing that it would bring for­ward a sep­a­rate Bill to im­ple­ment the with­drawal agree­ment – thereby guar­an­tee­ing MPs a vote.

How­ever, Min­is­ters are now fac­ing a new chal­lenge over their own amend­ment which aims to en­shrine March 29, 2019 as the of­fi­cial date of Bri­tain’s exit from the EU.

Jus­ti­fy­ing the move yes­ter­day, Brexit Min­is­ter Steve Baker sug­gested it was de­signed to re­as­sure MPs about the scope of so­called Henry VIII pow­ers in the Bill. He stressed that the Gov­ern­ment also wanted to “pro­vide cer­tainty” for Euroscep­tic MPs that there would be no at­tempts to de­lay the Brexit process.

But set­ting out Labour’s po­si­tion, Mr Blom­field claimed that fix­ing the date was un­nec­es­sary and could threaten the chances of a smooth tran­si­tion.

In a sep­a­rate state­ment, Shadow Brexit Sec­re­tary Keir Starmer urged Theresa May to with­draw the amend­ment and “stop pan­der­ing to the ‘no-deal’ en­thu­si­asts in her own party”.

Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, about 20 MPs have in­di­cated they are will­ing to rebel if the Gov­ern­ment mo­tion is put to a vote. Mr Grieve last night con­firmed he would not sup­port the amend­ment as it would “fet­ter the Gov­ern­ment’s own abil­ity to carry out the ne­go­ti­a­tion”. He was joined in his crit­i­cism by the fiercely pro-Re­main MP Ken Clarke, who de­scribed the in­clu­sion of the date as “pos­i­tively harm­ful to the na­tional in­ter­est”. But se­nior back­bencher Bernard Jenkin ac­cused op­po­nents of the mo­tion of not hav­ing ac­cepted the re­al­ity that “we’re leav­ing the Euro­pean Union”.

THERESA MAY will today un­veil a se­ries of mea­sures de­signed to put the UK cen­tre stage in the tech and dig­i­tal in­dus­tries as the Gov­ern­ment seeks to bol­ster the econ­omy ahead of leav­ing the Euro­pean Union.

The an­nounce­ment, which in­cludes a dou­bling of the num­ber of visas avail­able to at­tract the “bright­est and best tal­ent” from over­sees, comes as the Prime Min­is­ter pre­pares to meet lead­ing fig­ures from the sec­tor in Down­ing Street.

In a counter to re­cent gloomy fore­casts about the po­ten­tial im­pact of Brexit, Mrs May will in­sist that the Gov­ern­ment is do­ing all it can “to se­cure a strong fu­ture for our thriv­ing tech sec­tor” and to send a clear sig­nal that Bri­tain “will re­main open for busi­ness”.

Min­is­ters will also set out de­tails of a new £2m voucher scheme today to make fund­ing avail­able for busi­nesses in West York­shire who want to ac­cess hy­per­fast broad­band schemes.

Ac­cord­ing to re­cent es­ti­mates, the dig­i­tal in­dus­try con­trib­utes about £97bn to the UK econ­omy a year, with Bri­tish tech firms at­tract­ing the big­gest in­vest­ment of any Euro­pean coun­try. These com­pa­nies are at the fore­front of de­vel­op­ments in ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, ro­bot­ics, 5G in­ter­net ac­cess and “smart en­ergy”.

Today’s mea­sures in­clude dou­bling the num­ber of tier one visas – from 1,000 to 2,000 – that are avail­able to work­ers who demon­strate “ex­cep­tional tal­ent” in of en­gi­neer­ing, medicine, dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy and the arts.

The Gov­ern­ment will also an­nounce £21m of ex­tra fund­ing to ex­pand its Tech City UK pro­gramme, which was set up to “ac­cel­er­ate the growth of the dig­i­tal tech sec­tor across the coun­try”.

In order to fur­ther “reaf­firm the Gov­ern­ment’s com­mit­ment to this vi­tal in­dus­try”, Mrs May will host a num­ber of dig­i­tal en­trepreneurs and in­no­va­tors at Num­ber 10. At­ten­dees will in­clude Ali Parsa, the founder of Baby­lon which re­cently launched its med­i­cal con­sul­ta­tion app, Tom Walkin­shaw of Alba Or­bital, and the CEO of Tech­mums Dr Sue Black.

Speak­ing ahead of the meet­ing, Mrs May said the UK’s dig­i­tal tech sec­tor “is supporting tal­ent, boost­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity, and cre­at­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of good, high-skilled jobs up and down the coun­try”.

“As we pre­pare to leave the Euro­pean Union, I am clear that Bri­tain will re­main open for busi­ness. That means Gov­ern­ment do­ing all it can to se­cure a strong fu­ture for our thriv­ing tech sec­tor and en­sure peo­ple in all cor­ners of our na­tion share in the ben­e­fits of its suc­cess,” she added.

The Depart­ment for Cul­ture, Me­dia and Sport is also launch­ing a broad­band voucher scheme to al­low busi­nesses in four pi­lot ar­eas – in­clud­ing West York­shire – to ap­ply for up to £3,000 to cover the cost of in­stalling gi­ga­bit-speed in­ter­net.

It marks the next stage of a £10m project an­nounced in Septem­ber to en­cour­age the up­take of “in­no­va­tive” ways of con­nect­ing of­fices and pub­lic-sec­tor build­ings with the next gen­er­a­tion of broad­band.

The Gov­ern­ment has al­ready set it­self the tar­get of en­sur­ing 95 per cent of the UK’s prop­er­ties have ac­cess to superfast broad­band speeds (24 megabits per sec­ond) by the end of this year. Gi­ga­bit ser­vices are not yet widely avail­able, but are ca­pa­ble of achiev­ing “hy­per­fast” con­nec­tions of 1,000 megabits or higher.

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