Keeping a Brexit plan secret shouldn’t be a piece of cake in a free country

We should make better use of our right to demand answers

Theresa May Number 10 Prime Minister BBC

 

Another day, another crack in the armour, as written notes spotted in the hands of a senior aid entering David Davis’s Brexit bunker apparently spilled the beans on the government’s fabled ‘plan’.

Naturally, denials this was the plan were quickly made by the government, but equally important is the fact we’re jumping at table scraps at all.

When the EU referendum result was announced, it was heralded by Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, and the Sun newspaper as Britain’s ‘independence day’, implying a parallel with America’s liberation from British rule.

But as these tribunes of the people ought to know, governments, in the words of the US Declaration of Independence, ‘derive their just powers from the consent of the governed’.

It could be argued the referendum was government seeking consent for one or other course on EU membership, though how democratic the process was is highly questionable. But ‘one vote then shut up’ is hardly an example of radical democracy.

Yet what have we seen since June 24? A new Prime Minister and cabinet nobody voted for (not even Tory MPs) flat out refusing to give the broadest outlines of their intentions, a Three Stooges Brexit department, a Foreign Secretary who tells more to Czech newspapers than British ones, a Brexit Secretary who says we’re leaving the single market one day, and then has to take it back the next, a legal attempt to block MPs from doing their jobs, and leaks that reveal a back-of-the-envelope strategy without the resources to carry it out.

In a democracy, government policy should not be kept secret from the public or their MPs. In a country with a free press, we shouldn’t have to wait for leaks to find out what our government is up to.

And here that other fine document of liberty, the US Bill of Rights, might point to a way out of this democratic cul de sac. Its first amendment places the role of a free press at the apex of all other freedoms.

But a relatively unfettered press corps is only as good as its journalists. As Mark Twain quipped, the glory of the United States is that it has freedom of speech and the prudence never to use it. That ought to sting for anyone who has a chance to interview a government minister and lets them off the hook.

So the next time they get a chance to interview the Prime Minster or one of her cabinet, they should ask her what her plans are with regard to Brexit, and not move on until she gives a substantive answer.

It’s unlikey Theresa May is unaware of the distinction between a ‘plan’ and a ‘goal’ (a point well made by politics.co.uk editor Ian Dunt), and it’s the role of an interviewer or someone with the resources to ask the government questions to wring out of politicians some information on both.

The PM and her cabinet ought to get the Paxman-Michael Howard treatment until they are shamed into answering direct questions with direct answers – on the single market, on free movement, on everything.

The bogus claim these answers will ‘show our hand’ to our EU negotiating partners must be dismissed as a silly evasion. EU diplomats will presumably find out what we want when we start the talks, so nothing is lost by saying so now.

Regardless, the British people deserve to know what the government has in mind now so we can have a say on it before those negotiations begin. If May’s cards are so close to her chest even the British parliament can’t see them, she can’t claim to be practicing democracy.

As for non-journalists, you can always write to your MP, or to your publicly-funded broadcaster, and insist they hold to account this ramshackle government on matters that will determine the future of this country.

In a democracy, keeping something as important as a Brexit plan secret should not be a piece of cake – and we can’t have or eat it if we can’t see it or know it exists. This ‘let them eat platitudes’ stuff has to end, and it won’t do so except by popular demand.

Adam Barnett is staff writer for Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBarnett13 

See: PMQs: Theresa May ‘Trumps’ her way through Brexit plan questions

5 Responses to “Keeping a Brexit plan secret shouldn’t be a piece of cake in a free country”

  1. Michael

    I fully agree. there is a difference between Democracy and Mobocracy. The founding Fathers of the US knew this.

  2. Mick Hills

    The fact is that Britain’s future is being decided by a handful of people. The decisions they make are not open to scrutiny by our democratic process. The vast majority of the elected members are unable to represent their constituents in the most important decision in decades. One way of pressure them is for MP’s to receive questions from their constituents such as, after Brexit will workers still have the protection now afforded by European legislation, what legislation will be put in place to protect workers rights if not? Lots of varying questions that can be asked in Parliament by MP’s on behalf of their constituents. This way the process of Brexit will be seen as working against the rights of people to have their MP’s ask and get answers on their behalf. In other words Parliament will not be working as it should. That being the case MP’s are within their right to force a vote to have their constituents questions answered.

  3. Mike Stallard

    Mr Corbyn has not got a plan either.

  4. Brexit News for Wednesday 30th November | BrexitCentral

    […] Keeping a Brexit plan secret shouldn’t be a piece of cake in a free country – Adam Barnett for Left Foot Forward […]

  5. Martin Grubb

    Adam Barnett’s desire for openness about ‘the plan’ may seem sensible but it fails on the illogicality of not also asking the EU Commissioners what is their ‘plan’ and how it is to be judged. Do we know how they intend to keep all EU citizens, which includes all UK citizens, fully and openly informed on the policy objectives and progress of negotiations or how they can consult or seek approval from parliaments (some or all of them) or their electors or seek approval/disapproval from all EU citizens in a vote or indeed the prospects for getting pigs airborne. The Commissioners haven’t the faintest intention of telling EU citizens anything, beyond punting out a defensive posture over the cake that we wish to have
    and they wish to keep, because they understand that these negotiations can only be conducted by those lawfully delegated to negotiate and that parliamentary crowd scenes either side of The Channel would make progress impossible.

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