Theresa May has just triggered article 50. She has officially told the EU that the UK will be leaving. Although it may seem like it has taken a lot of get to this point, triggering article 50 is only the beginning.
Over the course of the next two years, important decisions will be made, affecting many aspects of our lives. It will be decided what rights we have to live, work, and even go on holiday in Europe. Trade deals will be signed which will have wide-ranging effects on our economy. Decisions will be made about everything from our NHS and banking regulation, to drinking water standards.
The Prime Minister made it clear that this was a time to “step back and ask ourselves what kind of country we want to be.” But it should be the people who should shape the future of the UK - not a small group of politicians. We must make sure that these momentous decisions are made in a way that is democratic, accountable, and with the interests of the people at heart.
Triggering article 50 will start the clock on the two year time period in which the UK can negotiate a deal with the EU. At the end of this period the UK will automatically leave, with or without a deal. These negotiations will have a profound effect on all our lives, but at the moment we are at risk of them being conducted in secret.
So far, Theresa May has been acting more like a remote Queen that an accountable Prime Minister. She tried to bypass Parliament and use an ancient royal power to trigger article 50. She has favoured secrecy over scrutiny, refusing to reveal all but the most minimal of information about our negotiating position. She has failed to seek a compromise with the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. As a result the future of a United Kingdom has now been called into question. May has taken the referendum result as a blank cheque to use however she thinks fit. The people voted to take back control from the EU - but they did not agree to hand it to Theresa May.
Brexit should be an opportunity for the people to decide what laws govern us. After we leave, laws influenced by the EU will be revisited. As part of the Great Repeal Bill, the government is set to seek far reaching ‘Henry VIII powers,’ so they can change laws without going through Parliament. We need to make sure these changes are only technical - the government shouldn’t be able to change our workers rights, our clean air standards, or our maternity protections without asking first! The referendum result only provided the answer to one binary question. There are thousands of others that still need answering.
Democracy is a process, not an event, and the triggering of article 50 should mark the beginning of an inclusive conversation about what we want the future of our country to look like, not the end.