Was a Hard-Brexit Always Plan A?
By TruePublica: There’s an interesting story on Business Insider regarding Theresa May’s government. It is one TruePublica covered in November 2016 and was about how secretive the government had become under her leadership – but this story is more about Brexit than just secrecy.
Back then we wrote: “Her default position is to retreat into secrecy and blatant abuse of power. May’s natural instinct is to brook no opposition, debate or discussion of her actions, but to proceed on the basis of executive fiat, with as little information as possible given to parliament, devolved authorities and – Heaven forfend – the public. That May is intellectually out of her depth is plain even to Conservatives every Prime Minister’s question time in the Commons. Expect her to fall back more and more on those instincts for secrecy and authoritarianism – and the abuse of the massive powers of the state.”
We warned you then and so it has come to pass.
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It appears from the BI report that extensive work has been conducted to prepare 20 government departments for the 29th March exit from the EU – including the option of a hard-Brexit. However, MPs have run out of time to force the government to publish details of what their plans are and the government insists that the information they are working on is too sensitive and cannot be made public.
The BI report says that – Heaps of information on how prepared the UK government is for a no-deal Brexit are being deliberately kept secret from MPs, who have spent months trying to little avail to make ministers more transparent on their plans for leaving the European Union.
Since the 2016 referendum, the government has revealed minimal information about the 320-plus “workstreams” which it set up across nearly twenty departments to prepare the UK for a possible no-deal Brexit on March 29.
These Whitehall units are working on arguably the biggest government project seen since World War 2. However, despite Brexit being just weeks away, MPs have hardly any information on the progress these workstreams.
No-one, other than a very select few know exactly what the government has in store for the country come the 29th March. One assumes they are covering all the bases such as borders, medicines, food, haulage and so on.
The National Audit Office has published rudimentary information on what the government is working on. But as BI reports –
However, this was in early-2018 and fell way short of the information requested by MPs on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC.) In May 2018, the PAC wrote to the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) to say that the “quantity and depth of information” which ministers had provided on workstreams “falls short of the Committee’s expectations.”
That was ten months ago. Since then, the only new information has come either through media leaks or civil servants answering questions put to them by parliamentary committees, an example being the recent admission that officials had “run out of time” to secure ships for importing emergency supplies in a no-deal scenario.
The Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier said –
“The key thing is openness and transparency. Yes, a negotiation is going on and some information is sensitive. But not all of it is like that. It’s not all top-secret stuff. There are few sensitive bits in regards to national security but really not that much.” It’s been a blanket secrecy approach. They’ve used non-disclosure agreements in an extraordinary way on all sorts of companies. It’s secrecy for secrecy’s sake and Brexit has become the excuse for that.”
It is common knowledge that for most major projects, the UK government usually discloses information on progress, risk, and cost on a regular basis. At least once a year. This is especially the case for projects involving high-cost and potential reputational damage, such as HS2 for example.
Julie Ward — a Labour MEP for North West England — in December submitted Freedom Of Information requests to all 14 UK government departments which are working on Brexit workstreams. All 14 were denied.
Ward told BI: “By not publishing the workstreams, it seems like they have something to hide and the government usually does when it comes to Brexit. Frankly, the abdication of responsibility and lack of accountability has been at the very heart of this government since the referendum, to the detriment of the UK economy and our people.”
She added: “The government must now release all of the 320+ workstreams and lay out across each Whitehall department if it is ready for Brexit or a no-deal scenario. If the UK is not ready then we must immediately ask the EU for an extension to Article 50 and take no deal off the table.“
Shadow Brexit minister and Labour MP Jenny Chapman told BI: “The government should take no deal off the table and stop wasting time and money on an outcome no one wants.”
Last week TruePublica published a story about how the government was now pushing through hundreds if pieces of new legislation without due scrutiny from parliament.
We wrote – “Theresa May’s government is now going to push through vast swathes of new legislation in the final weeks before Brexit without proper democratic checks or parliamentary scrutiny. The government is now effectively paving the way for trade deals with the likes of the United States by reducing our common standards to theirs by back-door legislation.”
A leading supporter of the People’s Vote campaign for a new referendum, Chuka Umunna MP, told BI: “The Government is engaged in a systematic attempt to hide the realities of Brexit from the public – it is a disgrace that, with just 6 weeks to go until Brexit day, Parliament and the public still don’t know whether systems or plans are fully in place to deal with the consequences.
He added: “Ministers are engaged in a cynical attempt to lead the public into a blindfold Brexit, with none of the major issues resolved and with Brexit set to dominate the national agenda for years to come.“
As for Brexit negotiations – it could easily be interpreted that Thersa May’s government has become so dysfunctional that it could make anyone think they were doing it deliberately. The government has been defeated by MPs on propositions that they themselves backed just two weeks ago. So, other than the display of being comprehensively beaten, which was expected, what was the point?
May was emphatically and embarrassingly defeated on her Brexit deal last month. It did not win the support of the opposition parties or her own MPs. But she continued to try and win support for a deal that had not changed and lost – and lost again. The series of amendments being proposed is merely positioning like that of a chess game. Defeated at every turn May told everyone she would hold meetings in which she tried to get people to accept ideas which she could not describe well enough to change the sentiment of … well … anyone.
“Is there some way you can encourage her to return to the despatch box and tell us what her plan actually is?” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn asked John Bercow. The Speaker could not. Instead, he looked at Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay and offered him the chance to respond. He didn’t, presumably because he too – has no idea what to say.
Has the state of secrecy within the government become so suffocating that no-one is prepared to talk or do they know something that the rest of parliament don’t know? Or has the government pushed itself into a corner and checkmated itself at the next move?
The current trajectory is a hard no-deal Brexit. One can only speculate on its outcome.