Nick Clegg, has returned to the frontbench to speak on Brexit, knows what he is talking about as a former EU trade negotiator and European Commission official. He has assembled a team of experts and will publish a series of 12 “Brexit Challenge” papers posing the key questions the Government must answer. Clegg wants an informed public debate, and is rightly worried that the key decisions might otherwise depend on “who shouts loudest on the Tory backbenches”.
Clegg is not trying to overturn the referendum decision. But he believes Parliament must play a big role in shaping the terms on which we leave the EU, because people did not vote on them in the referendum. He suspects people will get a nasty shock when they realise the implications of Brexit. His first policy paper, on the single market, warns that the UK faces “a dramatic loss of sovereignty” – the very opposite of the “take back control” mantra of the Leave campaign. Clegg argues that what matters much more than tariffs on imports are the non-tariff barriers like the rules on consumer and environmental standards, over which the UK will have no say outside the EU.
The former Deputy Prime Minister believes May will have to give MPs the final say on the exit deal, because as Home Secretary she insisted on that over the less significant issue of EU co-operation on policing and justice. If she agrees, there could be some interesting votes because about 480 MPs backed Remain and only about 160 Leave.
As her mind turns to the negotiations over the summer, May will soon discover, as Clegg put it, that there are “no easy answers, only invidious solutions”. Trouble ahead.