Almost three years on from the EU referendum, and another week of Brexit confusion and chaos appears certain. Of course the process of leaving the EU was never going to be a simple one. Our economy, legal system, democracy and society are all intertwined with those of our European neighbours. And yet Theresa May’s catastrophic handling of negotiations with Europe – and her own party – have turned a difficult task into a national embarrassment.
The government has shown no capacity to resolve the Brexit riddle and has therefore forfeited its right to do so. MPs must take responsibility this week and seek to find a solution that protects jobs, wages, employment rights and peace in Northern Ireland before the nightmare of a no-deal Brexit becomes a reality.
What post-Brexit Britain should look like is the greatest question our nation has faced in decades. The consequences of the decisions reached in Parliament will echo throughout our communities for generations to come. Yet it is important to remember that Brexit – however important – is not the only issue the country faces. Far from it.
Only last week – in an address that blamed everyone else for her own failings – the Prime Minister talked of “real concerns about our children’s schools, our National Health Service, and knife crime.”
On this point, Theresa May was correct. Yet the tragedy for those who need a better health service, well-resourced schools and action on crime is that the Prime Minister and her government are the ones failing to act – or worse, they are the root cause of so many of society’s most pressing problems. Yet the continuing Brexit-based incompetence means no other crisis is receiving the scrutiny it should.
The reality is the care system is in crisis – with vital sleep-in workers like those I met from Alternative Futures Group last week suffering pay cuts, when any decent society would ensure that all care workers earned at least a living wage.
The reality is schools are at breaking point, with mounting education cuts risking long-term damage to the life chances of a generation of children.
The reality is that the NHS is facing an ongoing funding crisis. Staff are being forced to do more with less, while facing targets that simply can’t be met without adequate resources (like the government’s own cancer treatment targets, which have been missed for the 37th month running).
The reality is that local government is still being hammered with cuts. Kensington and Chelsea Council (whose UNISON branch I spoke with last week) is potentially unleashing a further £40m of cuts – and it’s certainly not the only authority having to do so.
The reality is that police cuts make it harder to fight crime, and violent knife attacks are killing scores of our young people. Every one of these murders is an avoidable tragedy, yet police staff trying to tackle it are effectively working with one hand tied behind their backs.
On so many fronts, the reality of life in the UK in 2019 is one of crisis in our public services. Crashing out of the EU with no deal would undoubtedly make a terrible situation far worse. But we cannot and must not pretend that staying in the EU would be a panacea to all these many ills.
This week, MPs will focus once again on trying to resolve Brexit, and rightly so. But when a government is elected, we expect it to be able to govern – not blame all of society’s problems on someone else. Whatever happens with Brexit in the days, weeks and months ahead, we need to see proper attention given to the real, daily problems that working people face – and action taken. Because Brexit isn’t the only place where this government has been callous, reckless and incompetent. Its flaws are everywhere.