We won't block Brexit, but it is hypocritical and wrong to deny Parliament a say
Writing ahead of today's Opposition Day Debate on the terms of Brexit, Labour MP Pat McFadden says both Remain and Leave voters have an interest in MPs scrutinising the Government's plans.
Open Britain has come together with four other pro-European groups – Britain for Europe, Common Ground, the European Movement and Scientists for EU – to call on the Government to tell us their plan for Brexit, and give parliament a say on its contents. If they do not do so, it will undermine both parliamentary democracy, and the Government’s desire to achieve the best deal for Britain in its negotiations with the European Union.
We are people from different parties and backgrounds, from politicians in Westminster to grassroots activists around the country. While we naturally differ on some smaller issues, we are totally united on what needs to happen in the months before Article 50 is triggered. The Government should publish their Brexit plan and put it before Parliament. People across the country will be signing our joint petition calling on the Government to do so, while I and other MPs will put as much pressure on the Government as possible to make them respect parliamentary democracy and give us a say on the Brexit deal.
The reasons for doing so are both principled and pragmatic. This country is governed by the principle that Parliament is sovereign. Leave campaigners argued endlessly during the referendum campaign that Brexit would enhance that sovereignty. It is simply hypocritical and wrong for those same people to now deny the right of parliament to have its say on the deal the Government negotiates. This is not about blocking Brexit – I respect the views of the majority of the British people absolutely. It is about who determines the direction this country takes in the coming decades. Clarity about this is in the interests of both Leave and Remain voters.
More practically, the uncertainty that is being created by the Government’s refusal to get into specifics is prolonging uncertainty. Businesses have no idea if Britain will stay in the Single Market, try to negotiate a free trade agreement, or trade under World Trade Organisation rules. Will we remain part of the Customs Union, or leave? Will we enjoy the soft landing of a transitional arrangement, or face the spectre of a cliff edge that disrupts business they day after we leave? The Government’s refusal to ever discuss these vital issues means businesses cannot hope to plan with confidence.
The Government’s argument is that to do what we are asking would give our negotiating position away to its European counterparts. This is a poor argument, for many reasons. We are not asking for every dot and comma of the Government’s negotiating position. We don’t need to know their fall-back options, red lines, and strategies. What we want is the direction of travel, the primary negotiating stance. This need not be kept secret. Theresa May must go into talks with her EU counterparts with a negotiating stance of some kind, and when she does, it will inevitably leak. The Government’s lack of transparency is about trivial domestic political management, not the vital work of getting the best deal for Britain.
For the health of our democracy and the health of our economy, it is crucial that the Government comes clean on its plan for Brexit. Doing so will give MPs and voters the say they must have on the deal that will determine the future direction of this country. And businesses here and internationally need certainty if they are to keep investing and keeping our economy afloat. They need to tell us – What’s the Plan?
Pat McFadden is a leading supporter of the Open Britain campaign and Labour MP for Wolverhampton South East