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Tony Blair Institute for Global Change

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We Need to be Adult in Our Politics

We Need to be Adult in Our Politics

Commentary

4 min read

Certain things surely are agreed by both sides. This was the most important decision taken by the UK in many decades. The result was clear but close. The country is now deeply divided, regionally, generationally and attitudinally.

The question is how to unite; how to protect and advance the UK’s national interest; and specifically what is the right future relationship with Europe.

This will not be easy. The elation – at least amongst some of the Brexiteers – is matched by a profound dismay in the ranks of Remain voters; and in the case of younger voters an anger which will not abate quickly. And those of us who are passionate believers in the Union are wracked by the possibility of its break up. 

Many of the 48 per cent will feel completely disenfranchised, without a natural political home and, at least under Labour’s present leadership, alienated from either main political party.

On the Leave side, there are some who are triumphalist and some more inclined to reach out. Those Leave leaders now so powerful within the politics of our nation should demonstrate they are in “reach out” mode fast.

With the Labour Party effectively disabled we need the Conservative Party to conduct its leadership battle with genuine patriotic regard for our nation’s interest.

The next weeks are vital in the signals we send to Europe and the way Britain is perceived. For example, Theresa May says she will have a Brexit Minister conduct the negotiation for Britain. OK, I understand the Tory politics of that; but is it really sensible for the country?

Don’t underestimate the damage having Nigel Farage address the European Parliament in that way does to our interests. Remember who has to agree any new deal for Britain: the European Parliament.

David Cameron has a huge role and responsibility in shaping the climate of the future negotiation. It will matter to the outcome and it matters now.

There is going to be a negotiation of extraordinary complexity where there are a thousand devils in every detail. Those we used to call “our European partners” are, unsurprisingly, divided and uncertain themselves. Some want us out fast. Some agree to delay the Article 50 process. This needs serious statesmanship.  

So before any formal negotiation begins, we need to get a high level sense of where the boundaries are going to be, the things that might be compromised, the things that are red lines.

So before any formal negotiation begins, we need to get a high level sense of where the boundaries are going to be, the things that might be compromised, the things that are red lines.

The psychology of the other 27 countries is crucial to feel and shape: they could decide that other secessionist movements should be deterred and so be disinclined to flexibility; or they could decide that the British view – especially on immigration – reflects something strong across Europe and have a measured response which tries to accommodate that sentiment.

We will start to disentangle what a negotiation around the European Single Market really means. How much do we really need to be in it? What are the practical consequences of being out of it? Is there room for any compromise on parts of it?

We will also begin to be able in real time to understand the impact of our decision. Will the financial markets calm down? What will be the position of our major European wide companies on jobs? What will be the decisions of American, Japanese and Chinese investors? Will they shrug or pull back? What will our growth rates look like and our projections on the costs of borrowing?

During this time, we need also from the Leave leadership a detailed vision of what the new British economy they advocate really means.

Do they see roughly the same social welfare and public service system or something radically different? Major deregulation and if so, where? As the new trading relationships are formed, what is the plan to get us over the pain in the meantime?

The point is: we the British people are going to have so much more information in the time ahead. Instead of looking through a glass darkly as it were, we will be face to face with our new reality.

Throughout, we must intensely engage with Europe, sussing out, smoothing over, spying out the room for manoeuvre. The role of Parliament is crucial. Above all, Britain should keep all our options open.

This last point is not an argument for another referendum. It is simply a statement of the obvious: the British people have a right to carry on being part of the debate, to consider the facts which will now take the place of the claims and counterclaims, and to discuss the options which will be put before us. Actually the people do have a right to change their mind, but that is not for now.

It is just that though we now know the decision of the referendum, so much about our future is unknown and undecided.

Our nation is in peril. To allow us to come safely through this we need to be adult in our politics, to proceed with calm, maturity and without bitterness; because our future as a nation in the world and as the UK itself is at stake.

The Centre Must Regain Traction

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