The art of asking killer questions should never be underestimated, and one of the strengths of the House of Lords, despite its many failings is that it includes a number of people with skills that are far too often missing from the elected House of Commons. One of these people is Alan Watson who is a Lib Dem Peer. His question which was asked on 10th October was to the department for exiting the European Union and it was simple and to the point: To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they will ensure that the views of those who voted for Remain in the EU Referendum are respected and taken fully into account.
The answer to the question was provided two weeks later on 25th October by someone who is also a member of the House of Lords, although in this case, a man who has spent most of his working life in Party Political environments. Lord Bridges of Headley was appointed as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union on 17 July 2016 and the task of answering Alan Watsons question fell to him. He stated:
The Government is committed to ensuring that the negotiations result in a deal that works for Britain and is in the interests of everyone in the UK. We have taken the conscious decision to build a national consensus to our approach to the negotiations. We are consulting a wide range of stakeholders in order to create a national picture of what people want from a deal on exiting the EU. This will allow us to deliver on what the country asked us to do through the referendum, by identifying the opportunities as well as the challenges. We have already said that we will consult and work with the devolved administrations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, because we want Brexit to work in the interests of the whole country. Our guiding approach is to implement the mandate that the people have given us to deliver the UK’s exit from the EU, and to do so in a smooth way, which delivers the best deal for the British people and sees us working constructively with our EU partners going forward.
It would seem that this answer was formed in the same part of Government that conjures up Motherhood and Apple Pie policies. The fact that it was a written answer to a question means that it was not going to be challenged, at least initially, but the words, some of which I have highlighted make it clear that George Bridges has thrown caution to the wind, or else thinks no one will scrutinise this question.
- I guess the interests of everyone in the UK is something that appears to have a bit of wiggle room, after all successive Governments have made contradictory decisions on a whole manner of things and then claimed it was in the interests of the nation, but that is surely different from being in everyone’s interest?
- The process of gaining consensus whilst open to a certain amount of interpretation and flexibility does have some principles and is not just a woolly concept. The dictionary defines a consensus as “general agreement” which means that not everyone needs to agree, but that the agreement must be widespread. It is perfectly proper to ask people to vote to identify if consensus has been achieved, but to begin a process with only 37.4% of the group in favour and 34.7% opposed and claim that this small difference would be sufficient to ensure that an overall consensus was possible shows a complete disregard for the concept of consensus.
- Finally the issue of stakeholders. In the business I am part of, I have been receiving a number of updated price lists from suppliers who sell products from overseas manufacturers that are not available within the UK. All of these changes are referring to the impact of the Brexit vote. The first indication I received of this came from a phone call from a German manufacturer on the morning after the vote who warned of the increases. I don’t think my name will be on the list of stakeholders George Bridges has in mind, and because we are a company of only 11 employees, I don’t think our company will be on his list. Our industry ensures that when people like George and Alan stand up to speak in a crowded space, that their voices will be heard clearly. I doubt if our industry will be on the list of stakeholders. However just to be sure, perhaps Alan Watson could ask for a list of those stakeholders?