MPs should debate Brexit, not frustrate it

Christian May
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The Single Market debate should be top priority for MPs (Source: Getty)

Parliament is back in session after the theatre of the party conference season and there are plenty of meaty topics into which our legislators can sink their teeth.

The Treasury Select Committee has been grilling HMT's top officials; Tory backbenchers have called for a new Royal Yacht Britannia; Boris Johnson has lambasted Russia over its actions in Syria; and the Lords have been examining the role of independent book shops.

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However, the meatiest topic of all – the juicy slab of prime beef – is the government's evolving Brexit strategy. Yesterday, parliament was dominated by MPs demanding to have their say – and it was Labour's newly appointed shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, leading the charge. It was refreshing to see a competent and forensic Labour figure (a former director of public prosecutions, no less) speaking for the Labour front bench. He served as the figurehead for MPs from all parties who are demanding that parliament plays a leading role in scrutinising and debating the government's approach to Brexit.

It is absolutely right that MPs play such a role, and No 10 has conceded as much. However, those who took a leading role in the Remain campaign are now demanding that the referendum should not be interpreted as a mandate to leave the Single Market.

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Ken Clarke, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg lined up to denounce the government's move towards a so-called “hard Brexit”. In doing so, they claim to respect the outcome of the referendum while simultaneously working to undermine it. During the campaign Cameron and Osborne, not to mention the official Leave campaign, made perfectly clear that leaving the EU meant leaving the Single Market, too.

And yet according to Clegg, if the government just performed a bit of “fancy diplomatic footwork” the UK could retain its membership of the Single Market and curtail freedom of movement at the same time. If this was remotely possible there would have been no need for a referendum in the first place.

Furthermore, it simply is not a credible option and the government knows it. Access to the Single Market, on negotiated terms, is a different matter entirely and that is the goal that should occupy MPs as they debate the government's approach.

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