Voters in Westminster declared an overwhelming preference for remaining in the EU in the recent referendum, and as someone who campaigned for ‘Remain’ I was saddened and disappointed by the outcome. Britain’s place is in Europe however imperfect its institutions. I fear the damage Brexit will inflict on the economy and on London. I am angry at the ugly and deceitful nature of aspects of the ‘Leave’ campaign - from the infamous UKIP poster to the promise (now dropped) that leaving would free up £350m a week for the NHS. On top of this, like others, I am sickened by the reports of xenophobic abuse and worse that have occurred in recent weeks.
It is obvious that ‘Leave’ campaigners had no proper plan and that the alternatives (and their costs) were not properly set out before the public. Membership of the EEA may offer the trading options we would prefer but this would almost invariably come with conditions, including free movement, which proved unpalatable to many voters. No perfect option exists. Meanwhile, uncertainty has already hit investment and the value of the pound and there are clear signs of economic slowdown.
I am afraid it may not be clear for a while exactly how we can secure the best outcome. However, there are some key points that can be made now:
- The position of European nationals living in the UK must be guaranteed. People’s lives, jobs and families cannot be left in limbo. I’ve raised this in Parliament and was pleased that our Parliamentary motion forced the government to withdraw their opposition, even though this is not legally binding.
- There must be zero-tolerance of racial abuse and harassment. The Mayor of London has taken the strongest possible stand on this, but we can all play our part.
- The British people should have another say- but it would be wrong to ‘re-run’ the referendum. I understand why there are calls for an early 2nd referendum but I am deeply cautious. There may well be some signs of ‘buyer’s remorse’ but could anyone really predict the outcome of a re-run? Anyway, we simply cannot just dismiss the verdict of voters in such a huge democratic exercise, nor the fears and the sense of cultural and economic alienation apparent in parts of our country. We have to take forward the debate about our future relationship with Europe (for there will be one) in a way that listens to the genuine concerns of the voters in the majority of constituencies across the country who opted for ‘Leave’. We must try to build a new consensus.
Meanwhile, there are decisions to be made, such as when the Government invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty - the process which, once triggered, makes Brexit a matter of law. The assumption must be that once the Article 50 notification is given, the UK will be out of the EU in two years or less, with all that implies for trading and other arrangements that have to be renegotiated. Parliament has a huge role to play in this and there should be a vote in Parliament before Article 50 is triggered. Parliament must be involved - across parties and with representation from both ‘Leave/Remain’ sides - to oversee the options and negotiating strategy for the next stage. I don’t want to see Article 50 invoked before Parliament has agreed what the future arrangements will be. We now need time to do the planning which the ‘Leave’ campaign so scandalously failed to do. There should be a further opportunity for the public to have a say on the proposed new relationship with Europe, whether at an election or via a referendum. None of this is going be easy but this is now the challenge and we will rise to it.
At the end of this letter I have drafted a survey to get a broader view on thoughts and priorities. If you could help me by completing it, I would be very grateful.
It would be very helpful to have your thoughts and responses to my survey below: