Brexit white paper: Climbdown or goodwill gesture

Theresa May in the House of Commons Image copyright AFP

It was only yesterday that the Brexit Secretary, David Davis, told MPs it just might all be a bit tricky to have a White Paper, a formal document outlining the government's plans for Brexit, and stick to the timetable they want to pursue.

Rebel Remainers though were "delighted", that, stealing Jeremy Corbyn's thunder, a planted question from a loyal Tory MP at PMQs today produced in fact a promise from the Prime Minister that, after all, there will be a White Paper.

It is a climbdown, no question, a last-minute change of heart.

Late last night Brexiteers were being assured there would be no bending, no delay to the government's plans and no giving in to the Remainers.

Even early this morning, government sources were privately suggesting that they were quite happy to have the white paper option up their sleeve, but there were no immediate plans to make that promise.

Then voila, at 1205 GMT, the pledge of a white paper suddenly emerged. As one senior Tory joked, "welcome to the vacillation of the next two years".

It may be being described as a "massive, unplanned" concession but it doesn't seriously hurt the government.

First off, it shows goodwill to the rebel Tory Remainers, many of whom feel their Eurosceptic rivals have had the upper hand of late. Schmoozing matters round these parts.

It takes one of the potential arguments that could have gathered pace off the table, before the Article 50 bill is even published. And, rightly or wrongly, no one expects a white paper will contain anything new that the prime minister has not yet already said.

It's largely a victory for the Remainers about process, rather than substance.

For her critics this is evidence of weakness, that's she has been pushed into changing her mind.

But it doesn't need to change the government's timetable, and today's embarrassment of a climbdown might be worth the goodwill that Number 10 will get in return.

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