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Britain will try to negotiate amicable EU divorce - Brexit paper

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will do its utmost to negotiate a divorce deal with the European Union that is mutually beneficial, Brexit minister David Davis said on Thursday, setting out the government’s strategy in an official policy document.

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The publication of the “White Paper” is part of an attempt by Prime Minister Theresa May to keep MPs on side as she launches Britain’s formal divorce talks with the EU.

Britain’s future relationship with the EU has split opinion in parliament, where the majority of MPs backed remaining in the bloc in last June’s referendum. Some fear May is leading Britain towards a chaotic Brexit, with no framework for future economic and security cooperation.

Introducing the document, Davis defended the government against charges it had offered MPs no time to consider its Brexit White Paper which, some said, gave little detail beyond what May has already said.

“We will seek a new strategic partnership. A bold and ambitious free trade and customs agreement that should ensure the most free and frictionless trade in goods and services that is possible,” Davis told parliament.

“That will be to our mutual benefit.”

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Davis reiterated May’s priorities in the negotiations, which she wants to launch before the end of March, and the paper offered some detail on how the British government saw the divorce process, suggesting a phased implementation.

May’s spokeswoman said the length of the so-called ‘implementation phase’ would vary for different sectors.

Britain’s financial industry welcomed the proposal for phased implementation, which offers firms a few extra years to adapt, but said the paper offered little detail on what kind of access the government wanted to get to the single market.

Malcolm Barr, an economist JP Morgan, said the “shallowness of the analysis and absence of detail are matters of great concern”.

Several opposition MPs also said the government was keeping parliament in the dark over its plan to leave the EU, a criticism which has been repeated against May who has said she does not want to give away her negotiating hand.

“For months we’ve been calling for a plan ... now there’s a White Paper too late in the day to ask meaningful questions ... That is completely unacceptable,” said Keir Starmer, Brexit spokesman for the opposition Labour Party.

Under pressure to give the parliament more say over her plans, May was forced by a Supreme Court ruling to draft a new law giving her the right to trigger Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty and start the talks.

With a majority in parliament, she cleared the first legislative hurdle for the bill on Wednesday but the new law will face more scrutiny by MPs next week.

additional reporting by Kylie MacLellan, William James, Andy Bruce and Huw Jones; editing by Gareth Jones