MPs should squish hard, xenophobic Brexit

by Hugo Dixon | 09.10.2016

The electorate didn’t vote for a hard, destructive Brexit. It didn’t vote for a closed, xenophobic one either. Given the splits emerging in the cabinet and the Tory party, it may be possible to stop Theresa May taking us down this path.

The prime minister made a Faustian pact with the hard Brexiters to get her into Downing Street. And her government’s hardline rhetoric certainly went down with the party faithful at last week’s conference in Birmingham.

But Philip Hammond is unhappy that a hard Brexit will damage the economy. The plunge in the pound was a harbinger of future difficulties. The chancellor spent the rest of the week trying to soften the blow, arguing that no decision had been taken about things such as whether Britain would leave the EU’s customs union.

Now the hardliners’ knives are out for Hammond because of his “relentless pessimism”, according to The Sunday Telegraph, while his friends are said to be furious with the “nonsense and garbage” that eurosceptics have said about the strength of Britain’s hand in talks.

Meanwhile, some Tories are unhappy with the government’s anti-foreigner rhetoric. Steve Hilton – a former senior aide to David Cameron who became a prominent campaigner for Brexit – lashed out at a proposed scheme to require companies to say how many foreigners work for them. This was “divisive, repugnant and insanely bureaucratic” he wrote in The Sunday Times.

The government thankfully abandoned this particular policy on Sunday morning. MPs should now force it to abandon others too. The good news is that, after running to the hills immediately after June 23, some are starting to find their voice.

A cross-party group of MPs is set to demand a vote on any decision to leave or limit UK involvement in the single market, according to The Observer. The paper mentioned heavy-hitters including Nicky Morgan and Anna Soubry, former Tory ministers, Ed Miliband, the former Labour leader, and Nick Clegg, former LibDem leader. Another group of Tory MPs opposed to hard Brexit have been mustering under the banner of Conservative Influence.

The most constructive thing MPs could now do is demand a vote before Article 50 is triggered. It would be a constitutional outrage if parliament was not consulted, especially since May is now interpreting the referendum in ways that cannot be directly derived from the June 23 vote. Whatever happens with the legal challenge against May’s right to do this unilaterally, MPs must put their foot down.

Parliament won’t, of course, stop the prime minister triggering Article 50. But it could and should set certain conditions over how she should conduct the Brexit talks – including that we should stay in the single market and that the negotiations shouldn’t take place behind closed doors.

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    MPs will have a second chance to put their foot down too when May’s so-called “great repeal bill” comes to parliament some time next year. This currently looks like a giant blank cheque which would give the government the right post-Brexit to strike out any EU rules it doesn’t like with limited parliamentary oversight.

    MPs – and members of the House of Lords – should give this suggestion short shrift. There is no need for this legislation now. May should be told to come back when she has finally figured out what Brexit means.

    Such actions by parliament wouldn’t, in themselves, derail Brexit. But they might be the start of a fight-back. After all, if May has to get parliamentary approval for her actions, she will struggle to find any approach that commands majority support. This, in turn, will expose the fragility of the original pro-Brexit coalition which won the referendum because it promised a “have-your-cake-and-eat-it” Brexit that only existed in Boris Johnson’s fantasies.

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

    Tags: , Categories: Articles, Post-Brexit

    3 Responses to “MPs should squish hard, xenophobic Brexit”

    • Some very strange things are happening in British politics at the moment. The UK government of David Cameron made a proposal that was narrowly rejected in the referendum. The same Conservative party in the Commons which supported Mr Cameron’s policy now appears to be supporting a hard Brexit, quite the opposite policy. Mrs May seems mesmerized by the apparent problems caused by immigration. However, we now know, thanks to Brexit 853, that the UK government has not used or even apparently been aware of the built in safeguards provided in the Freedom of Movement Directive against abuse by EU nationals coming to the UK. From personal experience, I can confirm that until very recently there were no controls carried out by the UK Border Agency at St Pancras of persons leaving the country on Eurostar. How does one explain these contradictions and the emphasis on control of immigration being of greater importance than remaining in the Single Market ?

    • At last the fight back has begun
      The wise old tortoise will beat the far too quick sound bites hare. Slowly unelected May will realise that she is alienating the broad mass of intelligent folks, and will turn her coat again.

    • I hope that the pro-European MPs of all parties can successfully influence the forthcoming negotiations. The Single Market is the main economic objective along with passporting rights. I voted for remain & am of the opinion that May, Fox, Davies & to a certain extent Johnson need to rethink their strategy otherwise we will all suffer the consequences.