Scrolling through my Twitter timeline this morning I came across a tweet from senior Labour MP Hilary Benn.
We are now 19 months on from the referendum and neither Parliament nor the rest of EU are any the wiser about what the Government actually wants from the Brexit negotiations. Extraordinary and unacceptable.
— Hilary Benn (@hilarybennmp) January 29, 2018
I’ve never worked with him myself but it’s fair to say that he is one of those MPs who is respected by all sides of the House of Commons – a fact which helps explain his election to the important role of chairing the Brexit select committee.
His tweet expressed surprise and alarm at the current state of the Brexit negotiations from the UK’s perspective, and it followed a weekend of press reports about the government’s latest bout of infighting over this most challenging of issues.
It also reminded me of my blog from March last year, in which I said that the government would be well advised to embark on a genuine process of citizen engagement about what Brexit means and where we are headed. Precious little of this has occurred and the country remains as divided as ever.
Although my colleague at CPI, Adrian Brown, has predicted that a “bespoke deal” will be hammered out this year, the British government will only begin to heal divisions, and strengthen its legitimacy, by genuinely showing that it listens to and represents the interests of all in society – I am sure that even the 52% who voted for Brexit would welcome a renewed conversation about what kind of future we are trying to build as a nation.
One of the many lessons from our global Finding Legitimacy project is that after consultations and referendums, governments tend to retreat to their departments and seem to never emerge for the much-needed conversations about what is coming next, or the longer-term vision for the country. This is not just a Brexit or UK problem but Brexit is not just impacting on trade and economics, but on our communities, identities and wellbeing. And our research shows that citizens across the world are benefiting from having broader conversations about their nation’s vision and plan.
Government and the civil service have a tough job getting over the line here, but bridging the divide between the government and its citizens and between citizens over all our futures must surely be a priority if the government, today and in future, is to gain the long-term buy-in and collaboration of its citizens in this new world.