Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

A leaked memo confirms what we all thought: the Tories have no plan for Brexit

The government has no plan for a hard Brexit - and little hope of getting a soft one.

leaked government memo has confirmed our worst suspicions about Downing Street’s plan for Brexit: ie, there’s absolutely nothing there.

Highlights: “the government’s priority remains its political survival, not the economy”, with business concerns largely seen as “a PR issue” there is “no clear economic Brexit strategy”, there won’t be one “any time soon”, and that Theresa May’s style of “drawing in decisions and details to settle matters herself” is unsustainable in the longterm. The lack of direction from the centre, meanwhile, has Whitehall’s different departments drawing up plans that are both contradictory and overlapping – and the Civil Service doesn’t have the staff to manage Brexit or to get to grips with it in the six months before May has pledged to trigger Article 50.

Though the report has, I’m told, been written without the government’s say-so, by Deloitte, the consultancy firm that has been brought into to advise, the note merely commits to paper what is being said privately by civil servants throughout Whitehall, and by businesses, who leave meetings with ministers frustrated and confused.

And, of course, it’s not so different to Nicola Sturgeon’s frustrated press conference outside Downing Street about the government’s lack of a plan a few weeks back, which was widely dismissed by critics of the SNP as grandstanding at the time.

But there is something to note for those people hoping for a softer landing than dreamed of by the Brexiteers. Here’s the crucial aside, on the public spats between Philip Hammond, Greg Clark and the three Brexiteers “Overall, it appears best to judge who is winning the debate by assuming the noisiest individuals have lost the intra-government debate and are stirring the external supporters”. 

You don’t need me to tell you that the loudest noises have been coming from the Brexiteers in general and allies of Liam Fox in particular.

That suggests that the government is aiming for a softer Brexit than its public pronouncements suggest – but will they get one?

As I’ve written before, a great deal of attention at a senior level is being paid to the Norway grants, where that country pays money not just to the European Union directly but to the constituent nations of the Union as well. Brexit leaves a large hole in the EU’s budget, too, which gives Britain considerable wriggle room.

Added to that is the fact that the City of London remains the trading centre for the Euro, and there is room for a Brexit deal that doesn’t flatten the economy.

However, money only gets you so far, and it has to be accompanied by goodwill and careful negotiation. The latter has been absent, and that is contributing to an erosion of any remaining goodwill towards the United Kingdom.

Donald Trump’s election presented the United Kingdom with an option to secure credit in the bank by offering security to the EU’s periphery, particularly the Baltic states. Instead, the government is behaving in a startlingly uncritical way towards the Trump administration, even as the President-Elect appoints a white supremacist to a senior position and makes eyes at Vladimir Putin and Bashar Al-Assad.

Added to that is the general distaste at remarks like the “citizens of nowhere” remarks May made in her conference speech and Amber Rudd’s now-abandoned proposal to force firms to list their foreign workers.

So while the government’s strategy, such as it is, may be heading towards a softer Brexit, the groundwork to get there is not being done – and the plan for what happens if Britain doesn’t get one is non-existent.

 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

Getty
Show Hide image

"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

0800 7318496