A statement was read in the House of Commons yesterday and repeated later in the House of Lords regarding the 'Process for Invoking Article 50'. The statement was read in the Commons by David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, and in the Lords by Lord Bridges. Both statements were followed by lengthy and impassioned debate.
There are two elements that struck me, both of which I tried to reference in a question I put in the Lords.
First, the statement begins by saying:
The Government's priority at every stage following the referendum has been to respect the outcome of that referendum and ensure it is delivered on.
My immediate response was to wonder if respect for the outcome was being matched by respect for the people. If 17.4 million people voted to leave the EU, that leaves almost the same number who did not. They need to be respected as well as those who voted to leave. The constant referral to the motives of all those who regret the referendum result – and question the process since – as obstructive is disrespectful. We have a very divided country. Many would like to reverse the decision. But, many who regret it do not see it this way, yet still find themselves criticised and their own integrity impugned. The statement says:
And we will give no quarter to anyone who, while going through the motions of respecting the outcome of the referendum, in fact seek ways to thwart the decision of the British people.
And that is being used to justify writing off the legitimate questions being asked in Parliament and beyond.
My second point, and the one I focused on in my question in the Lords, has to do with the closing paragraph:
We are going to get on with delivering on the mandate to leave the European Union in the best way possible for the UK's national interest – best for jobs, best for growth and best for investment.
Good. The government does need to get on with its work. But, have we really reduced 'the national interest' to economics? Does the national interest not also include what will be best for social order, reconciliation and the maturity of the public/political discourse? If so, does the government not also have a responsibility to defend the independence of the judiciary and those who do what the constitution requires of them without them being subjected to ad hominem vituperation at the hands of a press that shapes the public conversation and does not simply reflect it?
In the House of Lords every attempt to get the government to condemn the behaviour of elements of the press met with a stonewall. Understandable in the circumstances, but neither helpful nor acceptable. The government cannot simply wipe its hands of a declining public discourse that its own language might be seen to encourage.
The statement can be read here.