In the past few weeks, I have had a moral dilemma. Brexit is not a subject for local Government or its representatives, and given the divisive nature of the subject, I have tried to steer well clear. The problem I face is that, as a leader of a political group on Oxfordshire County Council, I have been given briefings from officers charged by Government with investigating and assessing the potential impact of a “No Deal” outcome on Oxfordshire and its residents. As a wealthy, thriving county, the risks to Oxfordshire are overall deemed to be low compared to many other parts of the country. However, I have been told that there are real concerns over certain possible impacts. I am also instructed that all such information should be kept confidential. I am told that the reason for confidentiality is that we must not cause panic buying or queueing. But if we wind up with a “No Deal” conclusion, there might indeed be some panic. Indeed, I am aware of residents in my patch who have already stockpiled some food and medicines. I would argue that knowledge of the risks involved with “No Deal” and allowing that knowledge to be part of the argument now would in reality reduce the risk of panic.
I am well aware that some people will argue that what I have to say is simply one more manifestation of “Project Fear”. Or is it “Project Reality”? I have wrestled with that for some time.
I believe that the information I have been given, is both independent and a fair assessment of the risks. I have to try to balance my duty to those Oxfordshire residents who elected me against the Government instruction to respect confidentiality. Should I keep quiet and just hope that “No Deal” is rejected as an option anyway, or should I demand that such information be put out there as part of the conversation now, where it may influence people’s opinions?
What would I say to the residents who elected me when, in the event of a “No Deal” conclusion, I am challenged with “You knew there was a risk of this and didn’t tell us?”
I am not willing to stay silent for long but would welcome any constructive suggestions in the meantime.