Isabel Hardman Isabel Hardman

Should the government publish a Brexit White Paper?

Just a year ago, the phrase ‘Brexit rebels’ denoted Tory MPs like Peter Bone who had a distinguished pedigree of pushing the government to be as Eurosceptic as possible, with the odd eccentric comment along the way. Today, it means former Cabinet ministers such as Nicky Morgan, who are trying to push the government away from a ‘Hard Brexit’ – also with the odd eccentric comment about trousers.

Those new Brexit rebels are now demanding that the government publish a White Paper on Brexit. Morgan, Dominic Grieve and Anna Soubry want the government to ‘formalise the government strategy in a “reasoned fashion”’, as Grieve put it.

This really isn’t the most difficult demand that the government has faced on Brexit. A White Paper would firstly be entirely in keeping with Theresa May’s approach to legislation, which is to give MPs as many chances to comment on the problems with proposals before those proposals end up on the floor of the Commons. Once legislation makes its way into Parliament for the formal scrutiny process, ministerial egos and party politics make it much more embarrassing and awkward to amend a bill, and May learned that during her time at the Home Office. She came to value pre-legislative scrutiny as even though it took up a great deal more time, it meant that when a Bill did start its formal stages in the Commons, it would progress through them much more smoothly. The Investigatory Powers Bill was one of the key pieces of legislation that helped form May’s approach to legislating.

Publishing a Brexit White Paper would be a reasonably easy concession to the rebels which would make it even more difficult for them to complain about a lack of consultation and scrutiny.

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