Should No. 10 be more transparent on Brexit?

The government’s wilful disregard for the sovereignty of parliament has been a disgrace. British democracy has always been a free parliament, accountable to the people, holding the government of the day to account.

Theresa May’s government, however, in its desperation to avoid looking incompetent as it handles Brexit, is trying to sweep all the detail of our exit negotiations under the carpet. Theresa May and David Davis constantly trot out the excuse that the government shouldn’t reveal its negotiating positions before it sits around the table with the EU. But, there is a world of difference between sabotaging your negotiation stance and actually allowing our democratically elected parliament, which represents Leavers and Remainers, to hold the government to account and scrutinise whether or not the government is doing a good job. The truth is, the government doesn’t want parliament to scrutinise its Brexit plans because it knows that a little bit of scrutiny will expose the fact that government is all at sea on Brexit.

It has no plans, there are splits in the cabinet over key issues such as freedom of movement and membership of the single market, and when the EU gives us a punitive deal, which it almost inevitably will, the government doesn’t want this to be exposed and doesn’t want to be blamed for it.

Although a Brexit Select Committee of backbenchers, chaired by Labour’s Hilary Benn, has been set up, it has so far been provided with precious little disclosure to scrutinise. As recently as 20 October, the House of Lords EU Committee published its report urging that parliament be actively involved in scrutinising the Brexit process as it happens, rather than after decisions have been taken, as proposed by the government.

Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer, as recently as 15 October, called an opposition day debate specifically on the question of whether or not the government should provide parliament with an outline of its exit strategy. Cue the screams of treachery by the government front bench. Anyone who asks for the slightest bit of scrutiny is immediately denounced as a sore loser and a democracy denier, deliberately seeking to block the will of the people. This was most shockingly seen in the way the Supreme Court judges were scandalously treated by the media, labelled ‘enemies of the people’, simply for insisting that the British constitutional tradition that our free and sovereign parliament scrutinises the government was upheld.

The government, of course, was complicit in this appalling treatment by its silence. The whole point of the Leave campaign was to restore sovereignty to parliament. Now that sovereignty threatens to expose their incompetence, all of a sudden they don’t like it. Strange how that happens, isn’t it?

Benjamin Eckford

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