First published on Portland Communications for The Brexit Desk
Governments have limited bandwidth. Limits to how many priorities they can pursue. This Government has had its decided for it – by a referendum of the people – and it is dominating the agenda like nothing else.
Theresa May was hoping there would be a little capacity in the system for her pet projects – bringing back grammar schools, workers on boards – but alas. Nicola Sturgeon used the hiatus between the House of Commons and Lords on Monday to drive a coach and horses through the Prime Minister’s wishful thinking.
Downing Street has now got to manoeuvre Britain’s leaving the European Union and keeping Scotland in the United Kingdom. This would be tough for a good Prime Minister.
Article 50 will be triggered momentarily and the focus in the Commons will move to the self-styled Great Repeal Bill and its 1,000 statutory instruments. Every business will need to find its voice at this time. Clarity about what needs reflecting in UK legislation will be vital, as will pointing out the huge gaps that will remain.
Andrea Leadsom told Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee that copying EU legislation into UK law will not work for up to a third of the existing rules. And this is in a policy area used to make the case for Brexit, in a department headed up by a Brexiteer trying to ‘make it work’.
With the notable exception of Sir Keir Starmer and his team, Labour’s frontbench is keeping itself on the sidelines to Britain’s most important debate.
Labour’s leader Jeremy Corbyn organised an ‘emergency’ rally for European Union nationals calling on the Government to guarantee their rights after Britain’s exit from the European – he then, of course, failed to attend himself.
You could not make it up.
However, the parliamentary Labour party has its best people focused on the detail of what comes next. Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper chair vital committees scrutinising the process. Rachel Reeves on the Treasury Select Committee is engaging the City and keeping an eye on the numbers. Heidi Alexander is exploring separate legislation about Britain’s membership of the Europe Economic Area – basically the single market – and the likes of Pat McFadden, Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall and Alison McGovern are in the chamber asking the tough questions.
They, however, cannot do it alone – businesses, communities and sectors of our economy must come forward and make clear their concerns, ideas and potential opportunities.
The sorry events of this week are a cautionary tale as to what happens when the Labour leadership abandons its historical purpose – to be the voice of ordinary, hardworking people.
The people of the United Kingdom are ill-served by Britain’s unelected Prime Minister who, it becomes clearer with every passing day, is slavishly beholden to the hardcore Brexiteers that stalk her party’s backbenches.
The people of Scotland are equally ill-served by a Scottish nationalist government that has appropriated the language of social justice, but subjugates it at every turn to doggedly pursue Scottish independence – as they, all the while, starve Scotland’s education system.
Narrow self-interest sees an unholy alliance of Tories and nationalists pulling the United Kingdom in separate directions, desperate to divide, rather than unify.
It falls to Labour backbenchers to hold it together and stay focused on the detail. They are waiting for your call.