When the time comes politicians and the public should be able to make a clear-eyed choice about leaving Europe and not relegate themselves to irrelevance at a turning point in modern British history|
This newspaper’s three-day series on Brexit clearly shows that a life outside the European Union will neither be painless nor without cost for Britain. This country is giving up friction-free access to the world’s largest market and the free flow of its goods across European borders. It will sacrifice ready access to large-scale inflows of foreign direct investment and the knowhow that results from such deals. Gone will be free movement of skilled and unskilled foreign labour that currently picks fruit and populates universities. As City executives tell our reporters, London’s status as a linchpin of global finance might be blown up by Brexit. As the capital contributes the lion’s share of “economic” tax revenue, a potential threat to its future is no trifling matter. It is because of the uncertainties involved in Brexit and the unanswered questions Britain’s departure from the continent raises that there must be parliamentary debate and scrutiny. In this regard the speeches by peers are welcome, not just for their courtesy and fluency but also because they fulfil a constitutional role to review and – if necessary – to amend bills. Peers spoke despite being buffeted by a howling gale of indignation, which culminated with an anonymous “government source” threatening peers with destruction. As Lady Smith, Labour’s leader in the Lords, reminded Theresa May when she came to the upper house, “if we ask the House of Commons to look again at an issue, it is not a constitutional outrage but a constitutional responsibility”.
The bill to trigger article 50 and Britain’s long goodbye to Europe is just 67 words long. But how heavy those words feel. It starts a process that could tear families apart, may see vital industries depart from towns and perhaps leave Britain’s poorer parts poorer still. Westminster’s resident historian Lord Hennessey described Brexit as Britain’s fourth “great geopolitical shift” since 1945. Given the potential consequences, opposition peers are right to ask for safeguards for EU migrant rights and to ask for the bill to have ongoing scrutiny written into it. Ministerial assurances, given verbally in the Commons, would mean more if they were put down on paper. Having 27 conversations with European governments means supposedly secret negotiations will be anything but. Before MPs read the leaks, ministers should turn up and tell parliament how talks are going. These improvements are the minimum that one should expect to be made to such a historically important bill. Continue reading...