I spoke in the Opposition Day Debate on leaving the EU about the need to secure an exit deal for Britain that works for the country not just to appease warring factions in the Tory party. To achieve that the Prime Minister must have confidence in Parliament to scrutinise the Brexit process. You can read my contribution to the debate below.
The EU referendum laid bare two truths about British society. First, we are a divided country with deep fissures between communities and regions on a range of issues, from economic inequality and control of the UK’s borders to the very nature of Britain and our place in the world. The second truth is that there is a destructive and almost complete lack of trust in politics across large parts of our country.
Those two truths severely detract from our ability to make a success of Brexit, so we must act decisively and quickly to rebuild trust in our politics and to heal the fractures in our society. The Government’s approach to the Brexit process must have that necessity at its core, recognising that trust is built on openness and clarity, which is particularly important as the stakes for our country are high, and the immense power that the Brexit process confers on the Government will shape our society for generations to come. It is a sobering responsibility, and to fulfil it the Government must be open and clear with the British people.
From what we have seen, we can only assume that the Government are steering us with a misplaced swagger and hubris towards the rocks of a harsh, intolerant Brexit, but no one can be sure. The Government either do not want us to know what they are planning or they simply do not know themselves. Moreover, given that the referendum gave no specific mandate for a negotiating position, the Government must make it clear to the British people what they intend for their future.
Without parliamentary involvement, engagement and scrutiny, the only route for holding the Executive to account will be through Whitehall whispers, Fleet Street filtering and disgruntled score settling. After a referendum vote that was not, as the Prime Minister now seems to suggest, completely one-sided, but quite evenly balanced, we must find a path to Brexit that is driven by the national interest, rather than by the Prime Minister’s need to manage the warring factions of her party.
That path must run through Parliament, which should have full legislative and scrutiny powers. This is not a ploy to void the result of the referendum; it is a vital action to meet the referendum’s central demand that the UK take back control through a fully sovereign Parliament. The Opposition have absolutely no desire to see the result of the referendum overturned—it must stand. We are simply here to articulate the interests of the people we were elected to represent. Our responsibility is to secure the best possible deal for our country and our communities, whether it is in steel trade defence instruments or replacing EU regional investment funding and beyond.
Leadership is about building consensus and taking people with you. The Prime Minister should trust that Parliament is up to the task of playing a sober and constructive role at a decisive time for our country. The Prime Minister must act to restore the people’s faith in our parliamentary democracy by setting out how the Brexit process and subsequent withdrawal will work, and how both will be subject to the full scrutiny of Parliament every step of the way. It is only by proving that we in Parliament can work together to make a success of Brexit that we can rebuild trust in our politics and heal our fractured and divided society.