Today, the Prime Minister presented a 12-point plan and four guiding principles. These are meant to curb the resounding criticism the government has faced for its failure to propose a course of action for leaving the European Union, beyond the hard-toed line that “Brexit means Brexit”. As powers are transferred away from Brussels and back to Britain, the government must prioritise putting power back into the hands of the people if they want to forge a Britain that is truly “stronger, fairer, more united, and more outward-looking”
‘Take Back Control’ was the driving message of the Leave campaign, and yet so far Brexit has empowered only the government. May’s vision for Brexit includes creating a “fairer Britain,” which she defined as being about embracing of economic and social reform and restricting immigration. This framing of fairness rests on who we keep out, rather than empowering people and promoting the rights, freedoms and protections afforded to the British public and EU citizens that reside here. All of which are now at stake in the Brexit negotiation and multinational trade deals to follow.
May herself was explicit about the importance of democracy and accountability. She accepted that the “public expects to be able to hold the government to account very directly”, and also acknowledged that Brexit was a vote to “restore” our parliamentary democracy. She even held the UK’s “strong attachment to an accountable and democratic government” as a shared value with other EU member states. For the people of the UK to benefit from Brexit, a fairer Britain will be one where democratic reform that delivers power into their hands.
Although the Prime Minister confirmed the final deal will be put to both House of Parliament, this creates the illusion that there will be the opportunity for robust scrutiny of the most significant deal in decades. By the time the deal reaches parliament, we will be facing the “cliff edge” of withdrawing from the EU; it is both foreseeable and likely that parliamentarians will have limited room for manoeuvre when it comes to raising the concerns of their constituents.
The extent to which the public is involved in deciding which EU laws we keep, amend or repeal will be key to whether or not we can start to take real control of our democracy. May’s unequivocal confirmation that “it will be for the British parliament” to decide which rules will be repealed, revised, or kept as part of the Great Repeal Bill, allays some fears that our laws will be reshaped away from public and parliamentary scrutiny through the use of statutory instruments.
There is a clear appetite amongst the British people to take real control - the Prime Minister herself acknowledged the Brexit vote as being a vote to “restore” our parliamentary democracy. However, when put to the test May appears to want to operate without being held to account, dismissing the media’s scrutiny of Brexit as simply "filling column inches." Trivialising this as being a threat to the national interest is an alarming reconfiguration of the relationship between parliament and the people; the public are entitled to scrutinise proceedings along the way, and to have the means to input into the Brexit deal - for which the government has no clear mandate, or direction as decided by the electorate.
Leaving the EU will trigger a seismic shift in our relationship with the EU and the rest of the world, and the Prime Minister is right that we should take a step back and ask ourselves what kind of country we want to be. Brexit was not a blank cheque for the government to push the country in any direction it sees fit without accountability or transparency. We must use this opportunity to check the health of our democracy and make reform where it is needed. The people voted to take back control, and real control requires putting power into the hands of the people.