Why we need to know a lot more about Theresa May's plan for Brexit - if she has one

By Ed Miliband MP. This article first appeared in the Telegraph.

Kremlinology was the way observers used to read who was up and who’s down in the Soviet Union. Seating arrangements at the Politburo, what was on state TV and so on. A lot of people got it wrong.

These days it is the way Britain, the financial markets and European leaders try to decipher what the Government is up to on Brexit. It is trying and confusing. A lot of people are probably getting it wrong.

At the Tory conference, we were heading for hard Brexit. Immigration controls mattered above all else and we were definitely leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union. If that meant tariffs and red tape on trade, then so be it. 

But now, thanks to Greg Clark, the Business Secretary, and his welcome deal with Nissan for the firm to continue to invest here, the Kremlinologists need to reconsider. The Government is promising tariff-free trade with the EU for Nissan and no “bureaucratic impediments” to that trade. That sounds a lot like being in the Single Market and the Customs Union.

Questions abound: does the commitment apply just to Nissan or the whole automotive sector? What about other vital industries? If the Government is offering deals to their preferred specific sectors, which will lose out and at what cost? And if we end up in the Single Market and Customs Union – wholly or partially – what does it mean for free movement and the role of the European Court? 

Maybe, after all, mutter the Kremlinologists the Prime Minister is a soft Brexiteer who only pretended to be hard at her conference? Or maybe she’s just a hard Brexiteer who has made a deal with Nissan which makes her look like a soft Brexiteer. Or maybe she hasn’t decided. Or maybe the Government is hopelessly split.

There may be more answers in Mr Clark’s letter to Nissan but the Government refuses to publish it. We are forced to guess. The Prime Minister says the Government “must not reveal the detail” to Parliament for fear of prejudicing the success of the negotiations. 

Livelihoods and jobs depend on these details and those talks. Yet we have no idea how we will get to influence them and apparently, there will be no chance for Parliament to vote on the plan—if there is one

According to the Government, Nissan need to know Britain’s position on trade but Parliament doesn’t. The truth is that with 27 other governments and countless politicians directly involved in the process, the Government’s negotiating position will leak anyway. Nor does the argument that it would constrain the Government’s room for manoeuvre stand up. We are asking for a plan with clear aims and objectives, not “every jot and tittle” to use the Prime Minister’s words. 

Whether the Government likes it or not there is and will remain a running commentary. The only way to stop it is to present a plan.

Some are tempted to say that anyone who raises these issues is a “Remoaner”  wanting to reverse the referendum result. I don’t. I just know that long after this Parliament and this Government, people will be asking how we responded to the convulsion of Brexit. Did we seek calmly and maturely to make decisions in the national interest? Did we seek to bring the 48 per cent and the  and 52 per cent together? 

The only hope for the Government unifying the country is to change tack. Ministers have nothing to fear from presenting a clear plan to Parliament and everything to gain. Theyt are s government with a majority. If it is a sensible plan, they will get it through. And they would benefit from this for a number of reasons.

Because it would bring order to a process that is disorderly and even more uncertain than it needs to be. Because everyone who has an interest here (i.e. the whole country) would know we were working towards a White Paper in, say, February with a vote thereafter. And when it won that vote and got its mandate, the Government would go into European  negotiations strengthened.

Nobody wants to deny the Government the chance to wrestle with the difficult issues it faces. Nor to have discussions in private before ministers come to the country with a plan. But irrespective of whether we voted Leave or Remain, forcing us all to become Kremlinologists is not the way to govern. Instead, the Government has a duty to properly engage the country and Parliament in a process which will determine the future of our economy and place in the world for decades to come.