Brexit is a tragic diversion of resources from the nation’s real priorities

Every now and again Theresa May reminds herself, and us, of her promise to fight the ‘burning injustices’ of Britain today – but then is distracted by the government’s all-consuming nightmare

Saturday 22 December 2018 19:46
Comments
Countdown to Brexit: How many days left until Britain leaves the EU?

Even those who still want to leave the European Union must recognise that the attempt to do so has been and is a huge diversion of time, energy and resources from other government priorities.

As we report today, Theresa May has postponed a long list of “ghost policies” under pressure from Brexit preparations. In addition to long-term plans for the NHS and social care, both shelved until the new year, her government has put off new measures against domestic violence, a ban on wild animals from circuses, a new law against exploitative ground rent increases for leaseholders and new rules to stop employers taking staff tips.

The way in which Whitehall capacity is being soaked up by Brexit was illustrated dramatically this week by news that 600 staff at the Department for International Development are being temporarily deployed to other departments.

And it is not just legislation that is being slowed down by the Brexit bottleneck. One issue that has come to front of public awareness is the rise in rough sleeping in all of Britain’s big cities and towns.

This does not need legislation – despite the suggestion by Jeremy Corbyn that the Vagrancy Act 1824 should be repealed. So it should, but it is not important. What makes the difference to the prevalence of rough sleeping is political will, activist government and determined leadership.

It is not easy. It means tackling the mental health and addiction problems that underlie most individual cases, as well as the shortage of decent housing. But it can be done, and was done under the Labour government, to the point where rough sleeping was reduced to close to the minimum possible – and indeed to the point where we as a society and politicians as a government became complacent about it.

It would be perfectly possible to get the numbers of rough sleepers back down, but it needs ministerial and prime ministerial commitment and focus.

Every now and again Ms May makes a big speech where she repeats her brave words on the step of 10 Downing Street when she became prime minister. She reminds herself, and us, that she saw the vote to leave the EU as about much more than our relationship with other European countries. It was a demand for a better society, in which people gain more control over their lives and the “burning injustices” of modern Britain are tackled.

But then she and her ministers are sucked back into the maw of Brexit, and everything else is put aside for the critical negotiation, the crucial vote and the urgent preparation for the worst.

Insouciant small-staters might make light of all this, saying that Belgium, for example, is better governed for not having a government for long periods of time. This is not a view The Independent shares. Government has the power to do good. Energetic, committed and idealistic ministers can make a difference. It is a national tragedy that their efforts are being diverted into the swamp that is Brexit.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in