Should Brexit be left to politicians and mandarins?
The online media platform reporting on EU matters, euractiv.com, has published a list of the 50 most influential people in the Brexit debate. Angela Merkel tied with Theresa May for top spot, which is unsurprising. Nearly half of the people on the list are British, but a majority are not, which demonstrates just how much the 23 June referendum vote has allowed us to ‘take back control’. But what I found most depressing was the predominance of politicians and senior civil servants on the list – only 8 or 9* of the people on the list don’t fall into that category, with Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre topping the non-state actors (and he only made 25th.)
Our General Secretary Frances O’Grady is on the list at 41st**, but she is the fifth most influential non-politician/civil servant on the list, and the third most influential Brit among that group (CBI Director-General Carolyn Fairbairn is at 34 and Frances was one place behind Canadian Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney.) So much for Brexit undermining the elite, therefore!
It’s worrying that the most influential people in the Brexit debate are so heavily stacked with politicians and senior civil servants because – except in the sense that their place in history might be affected, they aren’t going to be the ones whose lives suffer if Brexit goes wrong. Frances’ role in the Brexit debate is to make sure that workers don’t pay the price of Brexit, but she is the only person in that position, which is worrying.
That isn’t to say that I don’t recognise the importance of British politicians like David Davis (8) or Keir Starmer (16), or the role that senior civil servants like Olly Robbins (37) in the UK, or Didier Seeuws in Brussels (11) will and should play. Indeed, Frances has met all four of them (and half a dozen others on the list) in recent weeks. But if we are going to have any chance of getting a Brexit that benefits British workers, then the decisions about what must happen shouldn’t be left to such a group of insiders.
That’s why the TUC made a national debate on the UK’s negotiating objectives, and a broadly-based negotiating team including unions and business, two of our 5 tests that need to be met before triggering Article 50. The people have spoken, but they shouldn’t now shut up!
* Baroness Shriti Vadera is 48th on the list. As she’s a member of the House of Lords, I’d count her as a politician (and a former top civil servant at that), even if her description also mentions her current role as non-exec Chair of Santander. You could also claim Mark Carney is a civil servant, to be honest, although like her he’s listed as a stakeholder.
** I should declare, for honesty’s sake, that I was part of the judging panel. But, whilst I reserve the right to claim otherwise at my next development review, I really couldn’t have delivered Frances a spot in the Top 50 by myself!