Metgate: from a clamour to an inquiry

The crucial New York Times allegation can now be addressed.

When the New York Times broke the significant "MetGate" allegation of an improper relationship between the Metropolitan Police and News International, commentators and politicians went in two directions.

Some, confusing a demand for an investigation or an inquiry with a call for an arrest, a prosecution, or a conviction, just repeated a mantra about the need for new or fresh evidence.

However, this was misconceived.

What is needed for an investigation or an inquiry is not new evidence (even though it was clear that there was plenty of new and old documentary and witness evidence to be dealt with properly).

All that is required is that such an allegation be serious, that it be consistent with the available facts, and that the public interest demand that the allegation be properly addressed.

The New York Times allegation met all these criteria.

It would be for the investigation or inquiry then to assess any relevant evidence, not those clamouring for such an exercise to take place.

Now we have a seemingly reopened investigation by the Metropolitan Police and a welcome inquiry by the home affairs select committee.

Already, significant evidence is coming to light for the both investigation and the inquiry to consider.

A judicial inquiry would have been preferable, with evidence given on oath and the power to compel attendance and disclosure of documents.

In practical political terms, however, that may have been the counsel of perfection.

With a reopened investigation and the select committee inquiry, combined with information that may come to light from various civil and criminal trials, there will probably be a steady stream of new information on the MetGate affair.

It is fortunate that this story was not closed down by knee-jerk calls for "new" evidence before anything could be done to address the MetGate allegation.

As it is, it may well be that the MetGate story is at the end of its beginning.

The serious allegation of an improper relationship between the Metropolitan Police and News International is now likely to be addressed.

The need for public confidence in the relationship between the police and the mainstream media requires nothing less.

David Allen Green is a lawyer and writer. His Jack of Kent blog was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize in 2010. He will now be blogging regularly for the New Statesman on legal and policy matters.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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As a Conservative MP, I want Parliament to get a proper debate on Brexit

The government should consider a Green Paper before Article 50. 

I am very pleased that the government has listened to the weight of opinion across the House of Commons – and the country – by agreeing to put its plan for Brexit before Parliament and the country for scrutiny before Article 50 is triggered. Such responsiveness will stand the government in good stead. A confrontation with Parliament, especially given the paeans to parliamentary sovereignty we heard from Leave campaigners during the referendum, would have done neither the Brexit process nor British democracy any good.

I support the government’s amendment to Labour’s motion, which commits the House to respecting the will of the British people expressed in the referendum campaign. I accept that result, and now I and other Conservatives who campaigned to Remain are focused on getting the best deal for Britain; a deal which respects the result of the referendum, while keeping Britain close to Europe and within the single market.

The government needs to bring a substantive plan before Parliament, which allows for a proper public and parliamentary debate. For this to happen, the plan provided must be detailed enough for MPs to have a view on its contents, and it must arrive in the House far enough in advance of Article 50 for us to have a proper debate. As five pro-European groups said yesterday, a Green Paper two months before Article 50 is invoked would be a sensible way of doing it. Or, in the words of David Davis just a few days before he was appointed to the Cabinet, a “pre-negotiation white paper” could be used to similar effect.

Clearly there are divisions, both between parties and between Leavers and Remainers, on what the Brexit deal should look like. But I, like other members of the Open Britain campaign and other pro-European Conservatives, have a number of priorities which I believe the government must prioritise in its negotiations.

On the economy, it is vital that the government strives to keep our country fully participating in the single market. Millions of jobs depend on the unfettered trade, free of both tariff and non-tariff barriers, we enjoy with the world’s biggest market. This is absolutely compatible with the result, as senior Leave campaigners such as Daniel Hannan assured voters before the referendum that Brexit would not threaten Britain’s place in the single market. The government must also undertake serious analysis on the consequences of leaving the customs union, and the worrying possibility that the UK could fall out of our participation in the EU’s Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with non-EU countries like South Korea.

If agreeing a new trading relationship with Europe in just two years appears unachievable, the government must look closely into the possibility of agreeing a transitional arrangement first. Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief negotiator, has said this would be possible and the Prime Minister was positive about this idea at the recent CBI Conference. A suitable transitional arrangement would prevent the biggest threat to British business – that of a "cliff edge" that would slap costly tariffs and customs checks on British exports the day after we leave.

Our future close relationship with the EU of course goes beyond economics. We need unprecedentedly close co-operation between the UK and the EU on security and intelligence sharing; openness to talented people from Europe and the world; and continued cooperation on issues like the environment. This must all go hand-in-hand with delivering reforms to immigration that will make the system fairer, many of which can be seen in European countries as diverse as the Netherlands and Switzerland.

This is what I and others will be arguing for in the House of Commons, from now until the day Britain leaves the European Union. A Brexit deal that delivers the result of the referendum while keeping our country prosperous, secure, open and tolerant. I congratulate the government on their decision to involve the House in their plan for Brexit - and look forward to seeing the details. 

Neil Carmichael is the Conservative MP for Stroud and supporter of the Open Britain campaign.