Brexit Deals Must Be Forward Thinking - Not Just Damage Control
Trade deals, regulations, non-repeal repeal bills, independence referendums and policians' legs - yes, you're not the only one that's found it hard to make sense of the Brexit story in recent days. What we must all grasp is that the Brexit process - for better or worse - has officially begun.
There are some great pieces out there explaining what’s at stake and what the different paths to a deal look like, so I’m not going to focus on that here. Instead, I want to explore what I think is missing from the speeches, articles and political posturing – a clear vision of the country we want to be in 2019. Yes, we’ve heard that we want to be ‘strong’ and ‘outward looking’, but what does this really mean?
So much of the conversation on a deal with the EU is about keeping what we have. As important as it is to ensure we retain workers’ rights and that we don’t flounder, we should also remember that it was hardly the case that all was fine and well before the Brexit vote. The pre-Brexit challenges of automation, economic inequality, bogus self-employment and growing job insecurity - as well as the pressing issue of climate change - have all virtually fallen off the agenda. Ongoing impacts of public spending cuts on the lives of ordinary people are all second to Brexit. Yet all of these challenges could derail any ‘good’ deal we get from the EU on Brexit.
Brexit is being unhelpfully separated from our wider objectives - we must that our government must start thinking in a more joined up way. After all, if we know we want to become a much more climate conscious country, this will mean placing more emphasis on trading with our neighbours. If we want to be a country attracting talented people from all around the world – many of whom are the backbone of our public services – we need a much more open immigration policy.
Unless we know where we want to go, how will we know what route to take? While Theresa May and others have set out key principles for a deal with the EU, most of these aren’t explicitly directed at improving people’s lives. We urge the government to think of these costs and set targets in terms of human consequences – leaving the EU should not increase poverty, inequality or unemployment, but should result in more money for the NHS (as Leave campaigners promised!).
We can't let Brexit negotiations overshadow pressing domestic needs or act as a smokescreen to the ongoing public spending cuts which are crippling our schools and hospitals. We don’t want to open our curtains on March 30th 2019 and see more homelessness, fewer children attending ‘outstanding’ schools, the renewables sector in jeopardy, the NHS severely short-staffed and a more divided UK. Yet this could happen by default simply because we have no real sense of what we want Brexit Britain to look like. Getting a good Brexit deal that speaks to our future objectives may be a tall feat, but Britain chose the hard way when we voted Brexit. It’s time this government stepped up to the challenge.