Brexit update October 2017

Tide is turning on Brexit
If you listen very carefully, you can hear the tide starting to turn on Brexit. Whether we focus on the Prime Minister’s increasingly strident statements that we can’t change our minds, the view from Lord Kerr, who wrote Article 50, that we can, or the endless procession of gloomy economic data, it is clear that this debate still has a long way to run. The most important thing is to keep a sense of openness around what is possible and to share that with friends.

Two things have made me increasingly concerned about the way Brexit is happening. First, there is the desperate attempts by the government to conceal the information they have gathered about the impacts of Brexit on our economy. These so-called 50 Secret Studies (see Brexit Papers below) should be in the public domain and a confident and respectful government would publish them.
Secondly, there is the growing sense that the referendum was not the exercise in democracy it claimed to be (see Huge shadow cast over referendum result below). Swirling stories about illegal funding, suspicious alliances and even the involvement of the Kremlin is leading many to wonder who was really driving the referendum and who was really taking back control from whom.
Last June there was a small majority for leaving and it should be respected, but we, the people, still have the right to change our minds. As the reality of Brexit becomes clear, and it becomes increasingly evident that the promises made cannot be kept, we need to keep up the pressure for our right to ratify the decision – or vote to Remain – in a ratification referendum.
Huge shadow cast over referendum result
There has been a series of disturbing allegations around how the Leave campaign was funded and whether there has been outside interference, especially by the Russian government. Some of the allegations suggest breaches of law. I have written to the Electoral Commission asking them to publish the results of any enquiries they have carried out into illegal spending by foreign governments and bodies in support of the Leave.EU campaign.

The Electoral Commission has announced it is to investigate whether ex-UKIP donor and SW resident, Arron Banks, broke donation rules during the EU referendum campaign. Given Bristol is central to many of the allegations, I have also asked the Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon and Somerset to investigate alleged illegal spending in the lead up to the 2016 EU referendum.
It is extraordinary that Theresa May, in a speech about Russian meddling in elections and planting fake stories in the media, did not once mention the alleged role Russia played in the EU referendum.

Given the highly dubious tactics of the Leave.EU campaign and the way this is likely to have influenced the result, it is even more vital that people are offered a ratification referendum at the end of the Brexit negotiations, with an option to remain in the EU.
Brexit Papers (50 Secret Studies)
I am continuing to press the government to release to the public in full studies they have carried out into the economic impacts of Brexit. I have teamed up with Jolyon Maugham QC and The Good Law Project and lawyers to threaten court action if the government continues to block the public release of these studies.
Labour used a motion in the Commons to secure the release of these studies to the Parliamentary Committee for exiting the EU. Passing papers along a few corridors so they land on a desk of a committee is simply not good enough. There is also the fear that the documents will be heavily redacted (information crossed out), so members of parliament and the public will still be kept in the dark.

Assurances from the government that the studies would be released have now been followed by procrastination and semantics (as demonstrated in the snippets below from a letter from Brexit Secretary David Davis to Hilary Benn MP). Indeed, the whole saga has descended into farce with the suggestion that the studies didn’t even exist!

There is clearly a strong public appetite to see these studies. A crowdfunding campaign to cover the costs of judicial review proceedings achieved its target within 48 hours, raising almost £60,000 from over 2000 donors.

See my article in the Independent on why I am taking the government to court. Also a recent article I wrote for New Statesman on why the Government must stop this farce and release the Brexit studies in full. You might also like to read my article for the Guardian on why the Brexiteers’ trade fantasies are crashing down around their ears.

‘Lexit’ myths challenged
Many on the political Left have suggested that Brexit provides an opportunity for the UK to make more radical unilateral moves on, for example, tax, outside the EU, and that EU state aid rules are an obstacle to the Left’s economic and industrial vision and policies. In this article for Open Democracy, I argue that a far greater threat to Labour’s economic plans would come from a ‘cliff edge’ Brexit. Leaving the single market and customs union would trigger an economic recession which would drastically reduce tax revenue and so prevent a future Labour government carrying out their economic stimulus policies. 

Leading Brexiteer Michael Gove and his ‘Green Brexit’
Environment secretary, Michael Gove, seems to be on a charm offensive, seeking to persuade the green lobby that his ‘Green Brexit’ will be good for the UK’s environment. To great fanfare he announced that he would ban bee-killing neonicotinoids. However, over in Brussels our representatives voted for the renewal of the license for toxic glyphosate, Europe’s most used herbicide linked to cancers and other health problems  and which damages biodiversity and soil health.

Gove’s approach to glyphosate is a much clearer test of his environmental credentials. At the heart of the debate over the use of this chemical is the precautionary principle: the idea that even in the absence of scientific consensus, a policy or action that might cause harm to human health or the environment should not be pursued. Gove has yet to confirm if his ‘Green Brexit’ includes this important principle, but if it fails to do so, environmental regulations post-Brexit will fail to be as rigorous as EU regulations where the precautionary principle is enshrined in an EU Treaty.

Gove is a leading protagonist of a hard Brexit and a ‘Green Brexit’ doesn’t sit well alongside such an extreme position. If he is to be taken seriously as an environmentalist he will need to weed out the harmful techniques being pushed by corporate agribusiness as they try and seduce us into believing we can have our cake and eat it: chemical methods which deliver both safe food to eat and protect our environment. What they really want to grow of course is their profits.

Instead Gove will need to provide a clear guarantee that banning noenicitinoids is just the start and that he will not give the green light to any toxic substances in our farming.

Read more in my full article on this subject for Left Foot Forward.