It feels as though the Brexit phony war of the last few months is finally over. The long slide in the value of the pound – now at a 168 year-low – is the first sign of the economic implications of the vote to leave the EU. Passionate debate is taking place in parliament, the courts and across the Cabinet table over what the Government should aim for in its negotiations, and what level of scrutiny the peoples’ representatives in the House of Commons should have. And with the European Council meeting today, the Prime Minister will come face to face with her EU counterparts for the first time.
I admire the Prime Minister for the way in which she has conducted herself in her first months in office. She is a talented, determined and committed politician who wants the best for our country. And she will need all of her talent and determination to steer Britain through the uncertain times ahead.
The collapse in the value of the pound in recent weeks has shown that the international markets are concerned about the Brexit process. The selling of Sterling is a demonstration of a loss of confidence in the British economy, and fears about what will happen to economic conditions after we leave the EU. This is not just the movement of a line on a screen – as ‘marmite-gate’ has proven, it means prices rising in the shops, higher inflation, and companies like Ryanair being damaged by currency fluctuations.
I fear those economic problems will be exacerbated if we pursue a ‘Hard Brexit’, with Britain leaving the Single Market and Customs Union and trading with Europe under World Trade Organisation rules. When the Prime Minister goes to Brussels for the European Council meeting today, she should indicate to her European counterparts that Britain seeks the closest possible trade relationship with Europe – being a member of the Single Market. That would reassure the markets and protect my constituents’ jobs and living standards.
Not that the European Council should be the first institution to learn what the Government wants from Brexit. Leave campaigners claim to have fought for parliamentary sovereignty, yet they are denying parliament a say on the Government’s negotiating aims. I understand the Prime Minister’s reticence. But as Britain faces perhaps our greatest period of upheaval since the war, it is vital that a public and parliamentary debate can be had about the Government’s negotiating aims. I welcome a vote at the end of the Article 50 process but I think there should be a clear role for parliament before that. This is not about seeking to overturn the result of the referendum. This is about MPs, on behalf of our constituents, being able to scrutinise and shape the Government’s negotiating position. We are leaving the EU but the terms on which we leave should be subject to open and honest debate.
The Council meeting also provides the Prime Minister with a golden opportunity on an issue concerning many of my constituents. Since the referendum was held, millions of European citizens living in Britain are worried they could face changes of status or even expulsion from our country. The Prime Minister’s positive statements about their rights are very welcome but the Summit is the perfect chance to go one step further. Over 25,000 people have backed Open Britain’s ‘Write to Remain’ campaign, calling on her to guarantee the rights of EU citizens to remain in Britain, and persuade other EU leaders do the same for Brits living on the continent. Of course we must be hard-nosed entering these negotiations; but not to the point of using people as bargaining chips.
Despite the result on 23rd June, I believe there remains a majority of people in this country who want Britain to be open and tolerant. Open to business and new ideas, tolerant of other peoples and cultures. They do not want Britain to be poorer, closed or intolerant. So the Prime Minister must focus on fighting for an exit deal that preserves our place in the Single Market and other vital EU programmes; defends the rights of EU citizens living in Britain; and gives parliament and the people a say on the historic choices now facing our country.
Anna Soubry MP is a leading supporter of the Open Britain campaign