Why the inquiry is so important?
Why is the Brexit consequences Public Inquiry petition/campaign, and the upcoming parliamentary debate on the issue, so important?
(1) Opinion is divided, partly along party political lines, as to how seriously Brexit has impacted the UK – and the specific ways in which that has occurred. The current government says that “it is challenging to disentangle definitively the impact of global factors [Covid, Ukraine and global supply chain disruptions] from the long-term effects of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU“. Others argue that that assertion isn’t totally true. Many of the economic impacts can be disentangled – and many of the non-economic ones were unaffected by those other factors. In terms of public opinion, 46.5 percent of the population thinks that Brexit hasn’t had a negative impact or feels that they can’t yet make a judgement on that. Around 53.5 percent do think that Brexit has had a negative impact. These figures suggest that both public and politicians are still very divided even on what Brexit’s consequences are – and therefore need objective non-politically-partisan information on precisely how Brexit has impacted the UK (and is likely to do so in the future), which industries, services and geographical areas have been most affected, and how any impacts could be mitigated.
(2) Brexit was one of the most important events in modern British history – economically, geopolitically and personally. The public therefore has a fundamental ‘right to know‘ the truth about what Brexit’s impacts and consequences have been and are likely to be. Only a well resourced relatively rapid independent Public Inquiry, with full investigatory powers, will be able to provide the public, civil society, business and our politicians with an objective accurate non-partisan account of how Brexit has affected the UK and how it is likely to do so in the future.
(3) Although the current government is not minded to renegotiate many key areas of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, the Labour Party leadership (which may well be the next government) has indicated that (although it doesn’t advocate re-joining) it nevertheless wants to negotiate significant improvements to the deal. However, in order for it to be able to objectively and more easily identify what aspects of the deal need improving (and how), it would undoubtedly be very useful for its decisions to be informed by an independent Public Inquiry, that had been charged with relatively rapidly carrying out a detailed analysis of Brexit’s impacts and consequences, sector by sector, geographical area by geographical area, etc, etc.
(4) What’s more, a Public Inquiry would make it much easier for any incoming government to act decisively and justifiably – because they would be able to argue that they were merely acting in response to the Public Inquiry’s evidence and conclusions. That would be very useful in deflecting inevitable criticism from hard-line ‘hard Brexit’ partisans.
(5) I referred above to the public’s ‘right to know‘. That’s particularly important in the case of understanding the impacts of Brexit – because so much misinformation was pumped out during and following the 2016 referendum campaign. Only a Public Inquiry will provide the objective credible data and conclusions that would enable the public, the media and MPs to hold the government to account.
(6) The petition (and the campaign for a Public Inquiry) has the capacity to draw in support from a very wide spectrum of people – remainers, rejoiners, and even some pro-Brexiteers. The opinion polls quite clearly show that that is the case. The campaign therefore has the capacity to reach people who are not normally reached through campaigns to rejoin – or even ‘rejoin step-by-step’ (ie., EM’s position). That’s very important – from a basic democratic perspective. The people’s ‘right to know’ is a relatively neutral, yet absolutely crucial, message (lying at the very heart of democracy and transparency). Indeed the campaign for a Public Inquiry, into Brexit’s consequences, has the capacity to unite people who, on other Brexit-related issues, would have conflicting views.
(7) The campaign for a Public Inquiry (and indeed any Public Inquiry itself) would also have the effect of helping to ensure that Brexit’s consequences continue to be drawn to the public’s attention. It has the capacity to become an important element of Brexit awareness. And, of course, it also provides an important context in which to discuss and promote the importance of repairing relations between the UK and the rest of our continent. Because the different impacts of Brexit (and all the economic, geopolitical and other issues involved) are so complex, a simple demand for a Public Inquiry to ‘get to the bottom of it all’, is a crucial ‘big idea’ that has the capacity to encapsulate everything in one campaigning demand.
(8) Clearly we can’t know, in any detail, what conclusions an independent Public Inquiry would come to. It would obviously identify Brexit’s impacts, but it might also indicate precisely what impacts can be mitigated by renegotiating some aspects of Boris Johnson’s deal – and what aspects could only be mitigated by ultimately rejoining the Single Market or even the European Union itself. An understanding of all that (based on credible facts
and conclusions from a Public Inquiry) is also crucial, if the public and our politicians are to fully understand what is in our country’s and our continent’s ultimate best interests.
(9) The campaign for a Public Inquiry will give members of the public opportunities to challenge the government and its supporters to justify their denial that Brexit (especially their hard version of it) has had bad consequences. The debate and other events will also give politicians of all parties an opportunity to pin ministers down on the ‘ benefits and opportunities’ they claim Brexit has created. With public opinion beginning to turn against Brexit, such opportunities will be of substantial importance.
(10) During the 10 tear period 2011 to 2021, the UK experienced two really major events – Brexit and COVID. A COVID inquiry was set up by the UK government just one year after the pandemic hit the UK. By contrast, the other major event to impact the UK in that period – ie., Brexit – is not being examined by a Public Inquiry, despite almost seven years having passed since the referendum and over three years since Brexit occurred. What’s more, the government has stated publicly that it doesn’t see any point in having a Public Inquiry. Public inquiries are there to enable the public, the media and the political world to learn about what went right and what went wrong during/following specific major events/crises. The government’s position is therefore inconsistent. If it is willing to have a COVID inquiry to learn from that experience, why are they so unwilling to have a similar inquiry into the consequences of Brexit. It is clearly not logical. Their reasons must conceivably therefore be partisan, rather than in the public interest.