Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Scrutiny or Sabotage

There has been a lot of discussion today about the extent to which the House of Commons should scrutinise the government's Brexit negotiating position.

Some of the people calling for scrutiny are undoubtedly sincere and I really do not have a problem with democratic debate about the sort of relationship Britain should have with the EU after we leave.

However, it is totally obvious that others who are calling for "scrutiny" and everyone calling for a parliamentary vote to be required to trigger article 50 are not interested in scrutiny, but sabotage.

Neither Owen Smith nor Tim Farron, to give two of the most obvious examples, have made much secret of the fact that their primary object is not to influence the form Brexit takes but to stop it happening.

The line in the "Fascinating Aida" song "So Sorry Scotland," which I posted yesterday,calling on the Scottish government or pro-Remain MPs to "invoke some parliamentary rules" to stop Brexit was probably meant as a joke but it perfectly illustrates the tactics some Remainers have suggested they might use.

Although I voted Remain I would consider any attempt to frustrate the decision of the majority of those who voted in the referendum to be unacceptable. Given that this was transparently the objective of some - not necessarily all - of those who were calling for parliamentary scrutiny of the negotiations to leave the EU, it is hardly surprising that the government treated such calls with extreme caution.

Given that the Labour motion on Brexit parliamentary scrutiny calls for the House of Commons, quote,

"properly to scrutinise that plan for leaving the EU before Article 50 is invoked," (my italics)

I would have been very suspicious of the motives behind such a motion too. Trying to establish a debate on what our relationship with the EU should look like is entirely reasonable, but trying to pretend that such a debate could take more than the most preliminary view before article 50 is triggered is ludicrous, as the serious negotiations cannot start until that point.

However loudly, Labour or the Lib/Dems claim to be interested in parliamentary scrutiny, if they  insist on a requirement that it takes place before the triggering of Article 50, I think the onus is on them to demonstrate that their real motive is not a wish to frustrate the outcome of the referendum.

Labour has put forward a list of 170 questions about the governments plans for leaving the EU which range from the sensible to the highly questionable.

Given, for example, that the British Medical Association has described the application of the EU's working time directive to the NHS in so many words as a "disaster," particularly for doctor training, I think Labour might have been wise to talk to doctors before demanding that the Working Time Directive should continue to apply to our health service when we leave the European Union.

A senior labour politician once warned the unilateral disarmers in his party not "to send a British Foreign secretary, whoever he may be, naked into the conference chamber."

It would be equally foolish to send Britain's negotiating team into the conference chamber with so many restrictions on their freedom of action that they cannot get the best deal for Britain.

The government have softened their line on allowing parliamentary scrutiny and I think this was wise. But I think that throughout this process it will be necessary to draw a line between scrutiny and sabotage.

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