Policy differences are normal in democratic politics but Brexit...
The election of a Select Committee to monitor Brexit developments marks a positive move forward at least in relation to parliamentary scrutiny. Although eight of the ten Conservative members supported Brexit, the Committee will be chaired by Hilary Benn and the members from the other parties are likely to give the Committee balance.
It is encouraging that it will include three highly capable Christians, Alistair Burt, Jeremy Lefroy and Stephen Timms who would welcome our prayerful support. The Committee has an important job to do. Its members will respect the result but recognise the deep division in the country. The Brexiteers need to be reminded that 48% of the voters disagreed with them, too many to ignore. Part of the problem in British politics is that many citizens have felt that no-one cared what they thought and acted as though politics is an elite activity. The Committee has to be more inclusive.
It is also important that it understands and reminds Minister what the people did and did not vote for on June 23rd. It is probably fair to say that many voted for an outcome that includes fewer immigrants but the Committee would be wise to recognise that our ageing population does require immigrant labour. The NHS depends on recruiting overseas doctors and nurses. Jeremy Hunt plans to reduce the need for this but it could be a decade before he achieves that. Similarly, industry needs young skilled workers to replace ageing Britons. From a Christian perspective the Committee should counter the xenophobic element that has sometimes crept into discussion about immigration. Nor can we afford to be isolated in an increasingly globalised world.
Brexit was the big issue in this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions. Jeremy Corbyn raised the sensitive issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic once we leave the EU. None of the Governments involved wants frontier boundaries and the end of free movement across the island of Ireland or between Britain and the Republic, but the EU will expect that when we leave. How will the Government negotiate open borders with one EU member state but not the other members? On Wednesday the P.M. could only say she wants to deliver the people’s decision, cut immigration and retain access to the single market. To agree to that the EU would have to concede a major compromise in its founding principles.
It will also help if the Select Committee explores what the people did not vote for in the referendum. A majority clearly voted to leave the EU but not necessarily for an economic downturn, job losses and reduced incomes. Brexiteers claimed that none of that would happen but the early signs are that they were naïve. The value of the pound has fallen so far that imports are costing more in real terms and our wages will not go so far. If we are denied access to the single market, jobs will inevitably be lost, at least until alternative markets are found. Australia is open to a new trading relationship with us but won’t talk until we have left the EU. If that applies to other markets it means a hiatus in which jobs would certainly be lost. There is also a risk that we may leave the EU with no deal at all. Some EU voices advocate taking a hard line with the UK to discourage other members from following our example.
These are agenda items for the Select Committee so it isn’t only its Christian members who need our prayers.