There will be little time this parliament for May to focus on anything elseby Owen Smith / February 6, 2017 / Leave a comment
“Humongous” isn’t a word you often see in Foreign Office memoranda, but it’s the one that former UK Ambassador to the European Union, Ivan Rogers, reached for when asked to describe the scale of the task facing the UK in disentangling ourselves from forty years of partnership with the EU. I suspect, however, that Rogers may have thought he was being relatively restrained, as his colourful choice of adjective is barely adequate to convey the size of the legislative, economic and diplomatic operation that Brexit will eventually entail.
This is part of the reason why last week I voted against the Article 50 Bill—and why detailed scrutiny of the government’s Brexit plan during the coming debate in parliament is absolutely essential.
You wouldn’t think Brexit would be so complicated. Not, that is, if you picked up the skimpy government White Paper on the subject, knocked up overnight, one suspects, by Brexit Secretary David Davis’s beleaguered staff. Indeed, it’s the whitest White Paper I’ve ever seen, with a fifth of its pages mostly blank or blocked out. But its spare text is a joyful read: a masterclass of civil service understatement, peppered with moments of such exuberant optimism as would make Dr Pangloss blush.
According to the White Paper, the government doesn’t remember the referendum as an ill-tempered affair, fuelled by lies about the NHS or the prospect of the entire Turkish population moving to Tunbridge Wells. Instead, it says: “The referendum…was an expression of optimism that our best days are still to come.”
Nor do they recall the threats made just days ago by Theresa May to undercut and undermine our European neighbours when Brexit goes bad. Now, instead: “We are confident that the UK and the EU can reach a positive deal on our future partnership… and will approach the negotiations in this spirit.”
And, best of all, gone is any governmental nervousness about the humongousness of the challenge to turn decades worth of EU laws into UK statute overnight. Because the Great Repeal Bill has got that covered, and will “convert the acquis—the body of existing EU law—into domestic law in the shake of a lamb’s tail.” OK, I made the bit about the tail up, but you get the jaunty gist of it.
Now, amusing as this self-delusion may…