Report: What’s the plan?

“The Government should produce a Green Paper at least two months before it triggers Article 50 so Parliament and voters can debate it properly.”

This is the demand made in a petition launched today by a group of grassroots organisations, including InFacts.

Now that the government has accepted a similar parliamentary motion launched by Labour with an amendment, it may seem that this petition is no longer needed. Far from it.

Progress is still needed on two counts. First, the plan must be sufficiently detailed to answer the key concerns people have flagged about Brexit. Hence, the need for a Green Paper. Second, parliament and the people must have sufficient time to debate the plan rather than being bounced into approving it at the last minute. Hence, the call for Theresa May to produce the plan at least two months before she triggers Article 50.

The Brexit negotiations will be the country’s most important since World War Two. It would be foolish to rush into them without a plan.

It would also be wholly wrong for Theresa May to try to figure out the best way forward with a small coterie of advisers. She is not a dictator. She hasn’t even been chosen in a general election. The British people must be involved in determining the complex trade-offs involved in Brexit. This is going to affect all our lives.

The prime minister initially resisted producing a plan on the grounds that she didn’t want to reveal her hand to the other side. This argument was bogus. May will not be able to start negotiations with the EU unless she first tells our partners what she wants. The idea that the British people and our parliament should hear all this only after we have told other countries was outrageous.

The real reason why the government has yet to publish a plan is probably because it hasn’t yet got a clue what to do. This, in turn, is because it is nigh impossible to come up with any credible Brexit plan that isn’t damaging. No wonder that the cabinet is split over what to do on issues such as whether to stay in the single market and the customs union, how much we should be willing to pay into the EU’s coffers post-Brexit and whether there should be an interim or transitional deal after we quit.

Instead of a proper plan, we have coded remarks and leaks that we have to decipher as if we were detectives: notes scribbled by a Tory aide as she leaves Downing Street, off-the-cuff comments by Boris Johnson on TV, semi-secret deals with Nissan, cryptic comments in parliament by Brexit secretary David Davis and so forth.

The government will struggle to produce a plan. But that’s all the more reason to crack on and share it with MPs, peers and the electorate – so we can help refine it.

Do no harm

A plan must not just set out the prime minister’s ideas on key issues such as the single market, free movement and an interim deal. It must also show how we will avoid harm – addressing at the least the following concerns:

  1. What’s the plan to stop the economy falling off a cliff at the end of the Article 50 process?
  2. What’s the plan to make sure that manufacturers don’t face tariff barriers and customs controls?
  3. What’s the plan to guarantee that our world-beating services industries keep access to the single market?
  4. What’s the plan to ensure the public finances don’t get crushed, requiring more rounds of austerity?
  5. What’s the plan to guarantee that our NHS, universities, industry, farmers etc get the talent they need?
  6. What’s the plan to make sure Scotland doesn’t have a reason to break away from the UK and to prevent the return of border controls in Ireland?
  7. What’s the plan to ensure Britain has a voice in tackling cross-border problems such as global warming, terrorism, crime and war?

You can sign the #WhatsThePlan petition here