Now we need a Green Paper, Theresa May

by Hugo Dixon | 03.11.2016

It is good the high court has told Theresa May she needs parliament’s approval before triggering Article 50. But for vote to be properly informed, the prime minister must now reveal her Brexit plan.

It was outrageous that May thought she could get away without proper parliamentary scrutiny of her actions. In relying on the royal prerogative, she was behaving like a Tudor monarch rather than the servant of the people. The fact that Brexiteers make such a song and dance about parliamentary sovereignty rubs salt in the wound.

The court battle is not over, as the government will appeal the decision to the supreme court. But it is still a massive boost for those fighting a destructive, hard Brexit. Pro-Europeans now need to build on this victory.

First, MPs must demand that Theresa May produces a Green Paper setting out her Brexit plans before they debate and vote on Article 50. They should also make clear that they will have this vote even if the government wins its appeal. Parliament is, after all, sovereign.

Second, MPs should set conditions to triggering Article 50. It is not realistic to expect them to block May from starting the Brexit process. But they should say their approval is conditional on her not planning a destructive Brexit. Such a divorce would be one that tanks the economy, undermines the union with Scotland, harms worker or consumer rights, damages the environment, stokes xenophobia, knocks our influence or turns us from being a rule-maker into a rule-taker.

Third, MPs should only approve triggering Article 50 if the prime minister agrees to keep parliament informed as talks progress. They should also insist that she agrees to secure parliament’s consent for her final deal.

If parliament doesn’t approve the final deal, the people should be asked in a referendum whether they still want to leave the EU. If they don’t, we should stay.

It is becoming increasingly clear that if we change our minds, we will be allowed to do so  – even after we set the wheels of Article 50 in motion. Donald Tusk, the European Council’s president, said as much last month as did John Kerr, the British diplomat who wrote Article 50, this week.

The immediate challenge, though, is to force May to divulge her plans – and the evidence backing them – in a Green Paper. At the moment, she just wants to disclose general principles.

You can see why the prime minister doesn’t want to be more forthcoming. She is sustained by an unholy alliance of protectionists, neo-liberals, soft Brexiteers and former Remainers who have mutated into believers that Brexit must indeed mean Brexit. She must be concerned that this rickety coalition could crumble if she reveals her plan – because she will then cease to be all things to all people. That’s all the more reason for pro-Europeans to demand it.

Hugo Dixon is co-founder of CommonGround as well as editor-in-chief of InFacts. You can sign up as a supporter here.

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    8 Responses to “Now we need a Green Paper, Theresa May”

    • Good article, but she is damned whatever she does – revealing her red lines ahead of the negotiations gives a huge advantage to the other side, but publishing harder lines to allow for concessions will be portrayed as a failure when concessions are made. I agree entirely that parliament should scrutinise terms: they can’t be left to a tiny group in secret, but I have no idea how that can be achieved without giving away (and this weaknening) the negotiating position.

    • I don’t buy the secret negotiation position. If that’s the case why have the government been keen to hold informal talks with the EU prior to triggering Article 50 and been rebuffed? They could hardly hold talks without giving away a bit of what they want. Also, it’s hardly like the UK is suddenly going to ask for something that the EU isn’t ready for. They might ask for more or less of something or be willing to make more or fewer compromises on some issues, but they’re not going to suddenly ask for something outlandish.

    • There was no plan before the referendum, no plan was made up after the referendum and asking for a green paper, i.e. a plan, is well late but may hopefully be the moment that the U.K. finally finds out just what they’re doing and call the whole thing off. Incidentally, calling Brexit off and returning to the normal course of the working day might actually be harder than imagined, I am discovering during my present visit to The Netherlands.

    • Excellent article – let’s hope the decision of the High Court is upheld by the Supreme Court and this unelected bunch of wreckers can be at least be forced to re-consider the way forward. As an expat living in France, the referendum decision was a huge shock – you immediately feel like a “foreigner” whereas you have been used to automatically having the same rights as a National. Fortunately, having been in France for many years and speaking fluent French, I have been able to apply for French nationality.

    • Government should accept judgement by the Court and NOT waste time in appealing it. Unless of course we live in a dictatorship.

    • OF Course the Court had every reason to insist on Parliament’s role – that is why we live in a Parliamentary democracy and not a dictatorship.

      Legislation is the business of the Houses of Parliament – with proper process, not in private by the cabinet elite with no transparency. Insisting on proper process & scrutinising the (ab)use of power is a matter of constitutional law – and for the independent Judiciary. Why should any one get excited about that – unless they wish to undermine our democracy and the way it is structured.

      The irrelevant and derogatory comments being made about the Judges just betray the complete lack of understanding of their role, the threats to the brave lady who brought this action just indicate the level of not always very suppressed violence and ignorance which seems rife and should be deeply worrying.

    • The underlying assumption of most political debate is that we have a democracy. ”Representative democracy’ appears to be an oxymoron. It might be best we have but it is clearly not good enough.