Theresa May has persistently repeated “Brexit means Brexit” but as has been pointed out, this is a vacuous or meaningless phrase. The question ‘to Brexit or not to Brexit’ did not cover any of the nuances of the process. Did you vote Brexit in order to save the NHS for example? Did you believe the UK would be retaining access to the Single Market? Did you want to keep EU migrants that are already here or did you feel like they should be made to apply for visas just like anyone else? Brexit leaders promised all of these things and none of these things and voters must be informed about where Brexit is going, well in advance of the final deal being signed.
The new Prime Minister has said that she will not give a running commentary on Brexit. David Davis has said that even in private hearings, Parliament will not be informed about Brexit. How does this fit with the anti-establishment sentiment that was so strong in the EU referendum result? The public clearly wanted to take power back from ‘political elites’ that they felt were unelected and lacking in transparency, but the solution is that four political elites will take more powers away from Parliament and decide the fate of the nation in secret.
The Brexit Ministry claim that they should not give away their negotiating position yet during the contentious TTIP negotiations, the EU did publish their negotiation position openly and accompanied by plain speech articles for easier understanding by the public. By doing so, they facilitated the mass action that has led to TTIP being stalled to the point of being killed. It’s clear to see why the Brexit team might not like their plans thwarted by popular action but surely that’s no excuse. We need transparency for an issue as complex and important as this.
May and co have already set themselves apart from the aims of the voting public by claiming that restricted immigration is the ‘red line’ but polling after the result indicates that sovereignty was the primary concern and immigration was a secondary issue. Extrication from freedom of movement is likely to be much harder than clawing back more general regulatory powers and choosing it as a redline forces the UK towards a ‘hard Brexit’ which is not what all Brexit voters wanted.
Brexit’s victory has quickly become a divided camp, with the question now, “hard Brexit or soft Brexit?” It is no wonder that the Brexit Ministry want to keep their version of Brexit secret because it’s guaranteed not to please a majority.
Given the margin of the Brexit victory (52% to 48%) it would only take 5% of Brexit voters to disagree with a key negotiation aim for the Brexit Ministry to have lost its mandate. It is in their favour to keep everything secret until the last minute, presenting Parliament with a ‘deal or no deal’ question that will get rubber stamped because any deal is likely better than nothing at all.
This is not in the interests of the public or democracy though. Trade Deal Watch is campaigning for transparent negotiation positions, for public scrutiny of what Brexit means and ultimately for accountability from Brexit leaders and Parliament. Democracy didn’t stop at the EU referendum.