Current government and pro-Brexit spin is making a very big deal out of the argument that the negotiations that are presumably going to take place at some stage are like a game of poker. They must not, therefore “show their hand in advance”, which is to say that they would like their policy-making to be kept secret. I suppose we can assume that finally they have started to make policy and think about what must be done. Can’t we?
Governments, of course, always tend to want to do things in secret. It’s so much easier than dealing with pesky oversight or explaining to taxpayers where their money is being poured. So their position is understandable. But it is bad.
Aditya Chakrabortty has explained with some clarity how this has gone down with Nissan. To summarise, Nissan’s boss says in September that the UK must cut him a deal, and he needs some kind of compensation to stay in Britain. In short order he gets a person-to-person meeting with Teresa May, soon after which he announces that not only will they stay in Sunderland, but they will make the new model of the Qashqai there. Business secretary Greg Clark won’t say how this turn-around was achieved. He asks us to believe that all was required was a gentlemanly assurance that the government has an “intention to find common ground and to pursue discussions in a rational and civilised way”. Clark will not reveal what the written commitments that are reported to have been given might be.
Of course he won’t, because if the secrecy is blown, the queue of CEOs wanting the same benefits would probably stretch from Westminster up to Trafalgar Square. And those forced to rely on food banks or punished in other ways by the government’s lack of care for those with less privilege might get angry about it. In due course, that might even cost seats in parliament, and we couldn’t have that, could we?
The government needs to surround the Brexit negotiations with secrecy because they need to hide how much the country will be bled in order to save face here and there.