Leader comment: Leaked memo exposes raw Brexit nerve

Prime Minister Theresa May  holds a Joint Ministerial Council meeting in Downing Street. Picture PA

Prime Minister Theresa May holds a Joint Ministerial Council meeting in Downing Street. Picture PA

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The row over the leaking of a memo claiming the Westminster government had no overall plan to deal with Brexit has captured the public’s attention, because of the strong suspicion that some of it rings true.

Whether the memo came from a government official, or, as Theresa May claimed, that it was one the world’s biggest consultancy firms “touting for work”, is irrelevant.

What the memo shows is that the government does not have agreement or a Brexit plan on how to handle one of the biggest political upheavals in recent times, one that has far-reaching repercussion for business, industry, security, foreign policy and human rights, to name but a few.

But it is not surprising a fully-drawn up plan is not on the Prime Minister’s desk. Dealing with such a massive undertaking is going to be incredibly difficult – one which an army of 30,000 of newly-recruited civil servants would be unable to get to work on and implement until such times as there is clarity at the top of the chain of command. The memo also claims Whitehall is also working on a staggering 500 Brexit projects .

This clarity may be some way off, considering the wide range of views on Brexit.

The principle of collective responsibility which is at the heart of Cabinet decision-making is commendable and in theory leads to a public show of unity over decisions. But the major sticking point is that not all Cabinet ministers are coming to a decision they can stick to, thus there is disarray and fuels the possibility that the leaked memo contains elements of truth.

In many ways it is a distraction from the legal ruling that Article 50 cannot be triggered without MPs’ backing – a major setback for Mrs May.

Some politicians, namely the Liberal Democrats, said they would delay the process, a move standing in the way of the democratic process and the will of the people.

But MPs want to have a say on this issue, something which is bound to delay the Brexit process.

The government is now bringing out the big guns and has drawn up a “bombproof” three-line-long Bill thwarting amendments, but within the letter of the law of the High Court ruling.

While an innovative move, the government’s tactic is contrary to the ruling that Parliament must be consulted, putting something in place to stop that is defying that law. Relying on the House of Lords not to do anything either is also contrary to how the parliament is meant to operate.

What we can deduce from all of the manoeuvring is that even if Brexit is triggered next March, there is much wrangling to be done and that is unlikely to be concluded in the time scale first envisaged, much to the probable annoyance of our former European partners and by this time negotiating opponents.

And for all that time the pound is unlikely to recover and the shadow of uncertainty will be looming over the economy.

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