It is obviously true that you do not display your hand in a poker game if you wish to win. But we are not playing poker. We are telling the rest of Europe what kind of future we want and then trying to get it. The future of Britain is about to be decided in smoke free back rooms and the British public have a right to know what our politicians are asking for on our behalf. I happen to think that the referendum outcome means the UK political leaders are under an obligation to attempt to deliver a constructive exit from the EU. It doesn't mean the public isn't allowed to try and influence what the country will look like if we leave. It doesn't mean that the public can't change its mind when that negotiating team presents us with the real deal instead of the false promises we've had so far. It certainly does not grant this particular team the right to put forward a set of far right fantasy proposals. The future nature of Britain for many decades is about to be determined by a team of Ministers and Senior Civil Servants that have a desperately thin mandate. Not exactly what you normally expect to happen as a result of a vote against the establishment.
A lot of us are deeply worried about what this team are going to ask for. We need our MPs to robustly challenge them whenever they forget the public interest and confuse it with their narrow political point of view. Some of the issues have been well rehearsed and are huge:
1. Will the UK have access to the single market?
2. If not what will the trade deal between the EU and the UK look like? Will the UK simply be obeying EU rules that we no longer have any say in and paying to do so?
3. Will the UK leave all existing EU protections such as workers' rights in place on leaving subject to later change by Parliament or will some or all of these rights be scrapped in 2 years time?
4. What will happen to UK people currently living in Europe and EU people living in the UK? What rights to travel and live across the continent will remain?
It is highly likely that thanks to legal challenges and a paper thin majority there is now a reasonable chance that some of this list of issues will be explored in the House of Commons. If our MPs do their job well then we may actually be allowed to know what our Prime Minister is asking for before she tries to convince us that we are saddled with the outcome.
Because of the importance of these issues most people are quite rightly focusing their attentions upon them. There are, however, an almost equally worrying set of negotiations that are now expected to be underway in which proper scrutiny is even more important. What will be the nature of any deals struck between the UK and other nations in bi-lateral trade agreements?
The most important of these negotiations is likely to be a UK to US trade deal. Imagine the scenario. Donald Trump's representative sits down with Boris Johnson or David Davies' team to discuss a free trade deal.
Item one. Import of US foodstuffs. Dangers: UK farmers driven out of business by mass produced factory farmers from the US. The UK farmers that remain have to adopt the lowest standards of animal welfare and industrial production methods. The UK also has to accept US standards on genetic manipulation and use of pesticides.
Item two. UK rules on rights at work, safety of workers, environmental pollution, emissions standards, product safety etc. Are these to be protected in any trade deal or will US firms be able to sell here provided they comply to US standards? How long before there is a race to the bottom?
Item three. Regulatory control over banks and the finance industry. Will these be tightly set to avoid a repetition of the 2008 crash? Or will they be weak and easy to dodge as the city lobby teams are already working to ensure?
Item four. Dispute resolution. Under TTIP this was to be done by an unelected team of lawyers and business people who could tell governments what laws they were allowed to pass. Will that be proposed again? What trade negotiators do we have who even understand that this might represent a problem and know anything about possible alternative models?
Item five. Tax avoidance. No discussion of increased controls. Plenty of chats about the best way of doing it.
Item six. Environmental protections. No discussion of improvements. Plenty of discussions on How the UK could be prevented from implementing any that might in any way disadvantage a US company.
Put simply there is every chance that people who voted out in the referendum in order for us to be a proud independent nation and to get rid of TTIP could find that the sole result is we are under the cosh of raw competition from the States and our government has negotiated an even worse set of TTIP style deals. If we leave our bi-lateral trade negotiators to get on with it unchallenged then we risk being faced late in the day with a set of rank bad deals that we can either accept or reject but have had no opportunity to influence and shape. How many people seriously think that a backroom deal signed off by Boris Johnson and Donald Trump on UK-US trade would be in the best interest of ordinary working people in either country? How many Brexit voters wanted something like that to happen?
It seems to me that we need Parliamentary and public scrutiny like we have never needed it before. We need our representatives to challenge Brexit negotiators every step of the way. And we need them to do the same thing every bit as strongly when it comes to bilateral trade. When they fail to do so rigorously enough we are going to need an army of citizens being vigilant in the extreme in discovering what we are not being told and exposing it to the full glare of public attention.
We've been sold a giant lie about how lovely it is going to be when Britain controls its own affairs and trades again with the rest of the world as a proud independent nation. We need to watch out or we will lose all serious independence to deals struck by unelected trade negotiators that our own Parliament isn't allowed to challenge properly on the desperately thin excuse that it undermines their negotiating position.
A loss of independence & sovereignty for the UK? Sounds scary. Perhaps a political party will be created to take up the issue and get nightly coverage on the BBC?