‘We deserve to know’: UK Ministers say ‘no’ to a public inquiry into the impact of Brexit

, by Elsie Haldane

‘We deserve to know': UK Ministers say ‘no' to a public inquiry into the impact of Brexit
An anti-Brexit protest outside the Houses of Parliament, Westminster, London. Credit: ChiralJon, Wikimedia Commons

‘The impact that leaving the EU has had on the UK needs to become common knowledge…We deserve to know’.

On the 24th of April, Westminster held a debate on the impact of Brexit. The leader of the debate was Martyn Day, Member of Parliament (MP) for the Scottish National Party (SNP), one of the several pro-EU political parties across UK politics. The debate was the result of a public petition started by the pro-European organisation Leeds for Europe, called ‘We call upon the Government to hold a Public Inquiry into the impact of Brexit’. This petition received over 200,000 signatures.

A significant amount of time has now passed since the UK left the EU - three years since the withdrawal, and seven years since the referendum. There have certainly been many challenges: from trade with the EU, to the Northern Ireland Protocol, to difficulties at the EU/UK border. Despite the fact that the withdrawal was such a unique and unprecedented decision, there has been no inquiry into its impacts (whether positive or negative) three years on. This petition, and therefore Westminster’s debate, has sought to rectify that.

The debate

In his opening statement, MP Martyn Day argued that there has been no impact assessment carried out to ‘assess the damage that Brexit has created’, and that the only way to truly know the impact of Brexit on the UK is through ‘an independent public inquiry, free from ideology’. He stated that ‘the impact that leaving the EU has had on the UK needs to become common knowledge’ - which he, and several other MPs present at the debate, began to outline.

The economy

One key focus on the debate was the economy. Day argued that although there was the suggestion of economic prosperity after Brexit, there is only predicted to be a 0.08% increase in GDP over the next 15 years. Arguing that missing out on being part of the 2nd largest world trading bloc has ‘further decreased’ ‘relatively modest economic benefits’. It was argued in the debate that it must be recognised that several other factors have contributed to this economic decline, but that Brexit must certainly be known as one of them. Stephen Farry, Northern Irish MP for the Alliance Party, argued that the UK will still have to follow rules set by the EU that are vital to its economy, but now without having a seat at the table in creating those rules in the first place. As Day pointed out, the Chairman of the Office of Budget Responsibility warned that ‘in the long term, it is the case that Brexit has a bigger [economic] impact than the pandemic’.

Customs and travel

A few weeks ago, the impact of Brexit could not be ignored as queues built up over Dover over March and April: goods lorries, holidaymakers, and cruise ships faced long waits because of lengthy customs processes. Home Secretary Suella Braverman was criticised for blaming the queues on “bad weather” and not on Brexit. In August the year before, Jacob Rees-Mogg had blamed the French side for the delays, and suggested that British people go to Portugal instead as “Portugal is more fun because the Portuguese want us to go and the French are being difficult”.

Labour MP Fleur Anderson highlighted that red tape for small businesses is now at a record high. In her constituency, she stated that 300 businesses had been lost since 2021, and would like to know how much of it has been impacted by Brexit through a public inquiry, and the ‘impact on working people’.

Northern Ireland

Stephen Parry acknowledged the benefits brought to Northern Ireland by the Windsor Agreement, he followed by saying that it is ‘at best, it is a soft landing’. He also argued that governance in Northern Ireland relied upon the joint membership of the UK and Ireland in the single market, allowing a balance of different identities to be expressed.

However, in opposition to this, Democratic Unionist Party MP Jim Shannon commented on the importance of democracy, that he ‘wholeheartedly’ believes in the results of the Brexit referendum. He added that in his constituency, ‘there is a wish to see Brexit delivered’. He argued that his constituents saw opportunities that were ‘not restricted by Brussels’, such as the opportunity to sell their products in the Far East, in South Africa, and other countries. However, he did argue that the situation for Northern Ireland was still ‘not good enough’.

Young people and opportunities

The case was also made in the debate of the impact on young people and children, many of whom were too young to vote in 2016. In the referendum, 64% of voters over the age of 65 had opted to leave, while the youngest category, 18- to 24-year olds, had voted by 71% to remain. Young people have lost access to schemes such as ERASMUS, alongside other opportunities to study or work abroad. In the debate it was stated that the number of schoolchildren coming on school trips to the UK from the European continent has halved because of the bureaucracy involved. For young people who are looking for work or simply want to experience life in a different culture, they have lost access to the job market and living opportunities across twenty-six nations - and now have access to only one.


Finally, it was highlighted that many did not vote for Brexit, but were dragged into the withdrawal by a small majority - the deciding ‘Brexiteers’ made up 52% of the votes, with Remainers only 48%. It was highlighted by Day that 62% of those in Scotland and around 56% of those in Northern Ireland voted to remain, but had no power to negotiate due to the majority of voters across England and Wales.

However, Adam Holloway argued that his constituents have felt ‘pressures on housing, stress on public services, and a sense of disenfranchisement’, and that by voting to ‘take back control’ through Brexit, they could have a say on the legislation that affects their lives. Holloway also argued that with the freedom to diverge from EU law, the UK now has a ‘host of opportunities’ as it is free to make substantial changes to many areas, such as insurance and a reform of financial services in general.

Why was the public inquiry refused?

The UK government responded to the petition in December 2022, stating that: ‘The UK’s departure from the EU is the result of a democratic choice and the UK-EU institutions are functioning as intended. The Government does not believe the UK’s departure from the EU to be an appropriate subject for a public inquiry.’ Hilary Benn, Labour MP and Chair of the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, called this response ‘dismissive’ and ‘defensive’.

While the government does not believe Brexit to be an ‘appropriate subject’ for an inquiry, the mood amongst the general public could be cause for concern. A recent poll found that three years on, Brexit has hit an all-time low in popularity. The European University Institute published a study that showed a significant change in attitude towards Brexit since the referendum. According to a separate poll by Statista, as of April 2023 53% of people in Great Britain thought that it was wrong to leave the European Union when asked in hindsight. ‘Bregret’, as many have dubbed the feeling of post-Brexit dissatisfaction, seems to be on the increase.

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