UK government under pressure to set out Brexit ‘vision’

By on 05/09/2016 | Updated on 24/09/2020
David Davis the new secretary of state for exiting the EU, made a statement to the House of Commons today, to explain the UK governments key goals for a post-EU Britain, under growing domestic pressure to explain its Brexit strategy

The UK government is coming under growing domestic pressure to explain its Brexit strategy, with MPs of all parties and former cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell calling on the prime minister and David Davis, the new secretary of state for exiting the EU, to explain their key goals for a post-EU Britain.

Speaking last week to Global Government Forum, Lord O’Donnell – who was cabinet secretary and head of the civil service from 2005 to 2011 – urged the government to “lay out its big, strategic vision of not just Brexit, but its strategic vision of where it wants the economy to go.”

O’Donnell argued that the government should settle these key questions before triggering Article 50 – which would begin the clock ticking on a two-year period of negotiations. “Let’s not get into this process, let’s not start triggering Article 50 until we’re absolutely clear about our overall strategy and our negotiating tactics” he said. “The important first step is to sort out what kind of Brexit we want. There were very different visions of Brexit laid out pre the vote. Obviously, we can only have one Brexit, and we need to sort out what that is.”

Davis made a statement to the House of Commons today, as Parliament returned after the long summer recess. There will be no second referendum or Parliamentary vote before triggering Article 50, he said. And Davis set out four principles, explaining that the government will try to establish a national consensus; put the national interest first; try to minimise uncertainty; and leave the EU. Civil servants are currently carrying out a “sectoral analysis” of 50 business sectors, he added, with the results feeding into his new 180-strong Brexit department.

But MPs lined up to criticise the lack of detail in the statement. Davis’s Labour Party shadow Emily Thornberry condemned his comments as “more ill thought-out platitudes from a government that’s making it up as it goes along.”

“We were going to hear what the government’s strategy was,” she added. “But what we’ve heard today hasn’t been a strategy.”

Accusing the government of “rank incompetence”, Thornberry said there has been “no evidence whatsoever of sound planning on the part of this government; no detail whatsoever on the deal that they want to strike; no strategy for achieving that deal”. And Labour’s former work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper commented that: “We expected him to be able to set out the outlines of some kind of a plan, and today we’ve heard nothing on that.”

Scottish National Party Europe spokesman Stephen Gethins struck a similar tone, saying: “Was that it? You’ve had all summer, secretary of state. It has to be said: it’s the mark of an irresponsible government, just as it was the mark of an irresponsible Leave campaign, that we know nothing more about the phrase ‘Brexit means Brexit’.”

Conservative Ken Clarke, the Europhile former chancellor, urged the government not to trigger Article 50 quickly: “I congratulate him on not rushing anything and I encourage him to take as long with his colleagues as he possibly can in working out a policy,” he said. “And I look forward to hearing from him again when the government have found something they agree on which indicates what Brexit actually means.”

Pressed on whether the government will prioritise securing free trade deals with the EU or introducing controls on immigration, Davis refused to accept that it could not achieve both. “The prime minister has made it very plain that the current status of immigration cannot go on, and we’ll bring it to an end as part of this process,” he said. He added later that he doesn’t think that this decision represents “a simple trade off – that an immigration control system that suits our country is necessarily one that will preclude a good trade relationship with the European Union.”

‘Free trade is not a gift from one country to another; it’s something that is mutually beneficial,” Davis added. “I fully expect to see that [the UK and EU will] both gain from the free trade agreement that comes out of the negotiation.”

For more, see our full interview with Lord O’Donnell

For up to date government news and international best practice follow us on Twitter @globegov

See also:

Lord O’Donnell, former Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service, UK: Exclusive Interview

What Brexit has meant for the UK civil service so far?

Brexit: UK government should try to win back officials from European Commission by offering ‘more than competitive pay’, committee says

A guide to Brexit, part 1: how Britain voted to leave the EU

A guide to Brexit, part 2: What’s the process for negotiating a British exit from the EU?

A guide to Brexit, part 3: Who’ll run the negotiations?

A guide to Brexit, part 4: Is Britain’s departure from the EU inevitable?

A guide to Brexit, part 5: What is the likely outcome of Brexit?

Olly Robbins appointed head of government’s new Brexit unit




About Matt Ross

Matt is Global Government Forum's Contributing Editor, providing direction and support on topics, products and audience interests across GGF’s editorial, events and research operations. He has been a journalist and editor since 1995, beginning in motoring and travel journalism – and combining the two in a 30-month, 30-country 4x4 expedition funded by magazine photo-journalism. Between 2002 and 2008 he was Features Editor of Haymarket news magazine Regeneration & Renewal, covering urban regeneration, economic growth and community development; and from 2008 to 2014 he was the Editor of UK magazine and website Civil Service World, then Editorial Director for Public Sector – both at political publishing house Dods. He has also worked as Director of Communications at think tank the Institute for Government.

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