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Brexit White Paper: The Elephant in the Room

Brexit White Paper: The Elephant in the Room

Brexit is happening. This week the majority of MPs voted to trigger article 50. After the political posturing we can finally get down to the messy details – details that are profoundly important for the future of this country.

To this end, and after significant pressure applied by opposition parties, the Conservative party today published the Brexit White Paper. As many have noticed, it's broad brush and lacking in detail. We might expect this given the relatively quick turnaround, but it’s when I was looking at what’s not there that my concerns grew.

One of the guiding principles for Brexit should be that it delivers for the working class. Why? The working class and those living in areas left blighted by deindustrialisation disproportionately voted for Brexit. Many interpreted this as a sort of protest vote – the working class living outside of the main cities were fed up of being neglected. When asked directly, many spoke of a feeling of being left behind and the desire to rebel against a political and economic elite unconcerned with their views.

And yet there was no mention of either regional rebalancing of the economy or tackling inequality in the White Paper today. Some might say that the paper does indeed speak to working class concerns by addressing immigration policy. But clumsy immigration targets haven't got us anywhere, and simply stopping immigration will not address the underlying causes of the proliferation of insecure work, less social housing and a strained NHS – which would take the government ending its public spending cuts and sizable investment in transport and energy infrastructure outside of London. The current narrative that scapegoats immigration for our economic challenges is not only false but highly destructive for community cohesion.

So we are back to square one – how will Brexit deliver for the working class? One way in which it might actually make inequality worse is by ushering in lower tax rates for big corporate companies that already exploit workers and hide money in tax havens. Again, the White Paper is silent on this issue – which provides ample wriggle room for the government to take us down the tax haven path in the near future.

No one who voted for Brexit voted for more inequality, but the Resolution Foundation published some analysis this week which found that that’s exactly what we’ll get. Unless this government makes tackling inequality front and centre of its strategy, the importance of this aim will be forgotten, and Brexit will make us more divided than ever.

CLASS is publishing a series of essays laying out how Brexit could deliver for the working class across jobs, workers’ rights, regeneration, tax, trade and community cohesion. Get in touch with clare.hymer@classonline.org.uk for more details.

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