Published at last – the government’s White Paper on Brexit leaves much to the imagination and answers nothing.
The paper published today, titled The United Kingdom’s exit from and new partnership with the European Union, has been branded ‘meaningless’ (The Labour Party) and ’embarrassing’ (The Independent) as it states the obvious by setting out 12 principles for separation from the EU. These include:
1. Providing certainty and clarity; 2. Taking control of our own laws; 3. Strengthening the Union; 4. Protecting our strong historic ties with Ireland and maintaining the Common Travel Area; 5. Controlling immigration; 6 The United Kingdom’s exit from and new partnership with the European Union 6. Securing rights for EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU; 7. Protecting workers’ rights; 8. Ensuring free trade with European markets; 9. Securing new trade agreements with other countries; 10. Ensuring the United Kingdom remains the best place for science and innovation; 11. Cooperating in the fight against crime and terrorism; and 12. Delivering a smooth, orderly exit from the EU. (UK Government, 2017: 5-6)
I would be astonished if this Government could provide ‘certainty and clarity’ now since it has been unable to do so thus far. We have been for months subjected to guessing games and contradictions, Brexit plans in every colour of the rainbow and the most naive among us – myself included – hoped against hope that this paper would deliver a degree of ‘certainty and clarity’. Alas many questions remain unanswered. What’s more, the paper is fundamentally inaccurate as it claims British workers have a paid holiday entitlement of 14 weeks when in reality the entitlement is 5 weeks (The Independent). Furthermore, the concept of ‘certainty and clarity’ coming from a government who have produced a list of the most vague statements – including “Delivering a smooth, orderly exit from the EU” – is a bad joke.
Certainty and clarity have not been delivered with regards to how the government plan to strengthen the Union. At present we are told by Michael Fallon to ‘forget about’ Scottish Independence, in complete disregard for the mandate provided to the SNP upon election to call a second referendum in the event of Scotland being taken out of the EU against its will. The Scottish and Northern Irish people definitively voted to remain, yet are ignored as they are stripped of access to the Single Market and extended a token promise of more devolved powers – where have we heard that before?
Immigration has been a central topic throughout the Brexit debate. For those of us who hoped for some clarification on what exactly ‘take back control ‘ looks like in practice, here is what the White Paper has to say:
“… we will always want immigration, including from EU countries, and especially high-skilled immigration and… we will always welcome individual migrants arriving lawfully in the UK as friends… We will design our immigration system to ensure that we are able to control the numbers of people who come here from the EU. In future, therefore, the Free Movement Directive will no longer apply and the migration of EU nationals will be subject to UK law” (UK Government, 2017: 13)
It is apparent that we still don’t really know specifically how we are going to control immigration. As a matter of fact, figures from the 2000’s show that net migration figures from Non-EU nations were greater than that of members of the Free Movement Directive (Migration Watch, 2007). While this was ten years ago and the gap has since narrowed so that the figures are now more even, the recent influx of EU migrants was likely to run its course despite the referendum result – this perceived influx of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants was largely due to migration controls being lifted in 2014 (BBC News, 2014). Throwing another spanner into the works: migration figures are infamously unreliable (Full Fact, 2016). Do we really know which of these statistics are accurate, if any? The point is, if there were always higher migration figures for non-EU countries, then what evidence is there to suggest that controlling EU migration ourselves will be successful?
Despite the paper promising ‘certainty and clarity’, we still have no way of knowing the answers to these questions.
On a lighter note, I genuinely hope for the best in these crucial months of negotiation. Perhaps the Brexit Squad, championing the 12 principles of British Independence at Brussels, will be successful in securing a positive future for the whole of the UK. Perhaps the settlement for Scotland and the North of Ireland will benefit us despite our democratic decision. Perhaps these negotiations will be clearly communicated to the British people every step of the way. Perhaps…
Image: The Telegraph