Many people reading this will, like me, be profoundly sad that tonight we will leave the European Union. If you’re a Leave supporter then I’m really glad you are here on my page as I value conversation and debate hugely – the only thing I ask is that amidst your celebrations tonight please be respectful to those of us who fought hard for a different path.
Just because Brexit is now happening doesn’t mean those of us who campaigned for Remain need to change our values or believes. But it does mean we’ll have to adapt to a new situation.
For me tonight will be poignant, but the real ‘low’ I felt was in the hours after the general election because the second I saw the result I knew in my heart that our fight to deliver a final say specifically on the deal was over.
There is an irony in what will happen tonight that seems lost on many Brexiteers: At 11pm we will leave the political institutions but remain a member of the Single Market, Customs Union and regulatory frameworks until the end of the year. So any changes in EU law will be imposed on us for the next 11 months without any ability to influence it at all. In other words, Brexiteers will be celebrating the single biggest transfer of sovereignty *away* from Westminster in the history of our United Kingdom.
Fighting to Remain a member of the EU was a patriotic act for me because I always felt our membership was the best way to enhance our power, benefit our economy, and give enhanced opportunities to every citizen. Now we’ve left it’s incumbent on all of us who share that view to put our patriotic values to use again as our country charts a new course. It doesn’t mean we agree with it, it doesn’t mean we believe it was the right decision, but it does mean we all have to be active citizens as the debate about our future role in the world and the places our economy will be anchored going forward.
In other words we can’t hope our country fails just to prove us right. The price others would pay in that scenario would be just too high – you only have to look at the number of people sleeping on our streets to see that our society can’t take any more hardship.
I will be fighting in the days and weeks ahead for a close trading partnership with the EU and a friendly, trusting, diplomatic one that is mutually respectful and absent of the hubristic attitude our government has shown to date. Our European neighbours are still the closest to Britain in terms of social values and economic aspirations and this must form the foundation from which we build new relationships.
I’ve learned a lot in the last few years and one key insight is that every time something ‘big’ happens the political landscape changes. Those who are agile can exploit the opportunities these moments provide and shape the way forward. Those who are dogged and don’t move with the times inevitably end up being ignorable or left behind.
The months ahead will provide us with many big moments. For the past three years government has only negotiated on four issues, now we have 11 months to negotiate everything else. Then in December we’ll leave the Single Market, Customs Union, and everything else from the European Arrest Warrant to the right to drive on EU roads with British drivers licences (anyone else old enough to remember the International Drivers Licence? We’ll need one of those again to drive abroad).
Then will come the much heralded trade deals with America, Japan, and the EU. Each of these trading bodies are significantly larger than the UK’s and will demand concessions from us in return for access to their markets. At this point Britain will be faced with some tough decisions and we need to have our voice heard.
With each one of these moments the political landscape will change. I can’t say how, but it will. We need to be ready for these opportunities. We must have our vision for a better Britain that is compelling and anchored in the values of the continent we’re located but pro-actively seeking out new opportunities further afield. I’m going to put my heart and soul into making this work – not on Brexiteer terms, but on our terms, the ones that united us in the Remain cause from the beginning.
I’m often asked if I believe we’ll rejoin the EU. I honestly believe we will one day, but I have no idea when or even if it will be in my lifetime. For now my job is to make the best of the situation we’re in, even though I tried so hard to avoid being here.
I will scrutinise, challenge, and try to stop any course I think will harm our community. But I will also work flat-out to restore Britain to credibility in the eyes of the world and help us move forward with dignity, stability, and success. But be in no doubt – when those opportunities for change emerge, I won’t be taking a back seat because I know precisely what you expect of me!
I’m now off to join some friends for a peaceful evening to mark the significance of the moment. But I’m not sentimental, I’m steeled for the battles and opportunities that lie ahead. Believe me, this isn’t all going to go in Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson’s favour!