David Shipley produced Brexit: The Movie.
I don’t think that a day went by between January 1st and June 23rd last year where I wasn’t thinking about how we could win the referendum vote for Leave. As for many people who are involved in British politics, the EU Referendum campaign dominated the first half of last year for me. Between producing Brexit: The Movie, working with a wide variety of Leave groups to distribute it and pounding the streets, the campaign consumed all of my free time.
As should be apparent from Brexit: The Movie’s content, the key issue for me was national sovereignty. I want Britain to be a positive, self-governing, outward-looking country that attracts the best and the brightest from across the world to study, work and live here. I remain convinced that my aspirations for this country are shared by the majority of British people, whether they voted Leave or Remain.
Perhaps naively, I believed that, in the aftermath of the vote, good people of such a broadly liberal persuasion would set aside the divisiveness of the campaign, and start working together to deliver the best outcome for the whole country.
I could not have been more wrong. The divides which were revealed by the campaign are still there. The anger from many Remainers is palpable, no doubt exacerbated by Leavers who are being ‘sore winners’. This situation has been made even worse by efforts amongst certain niche elements in the Remain camp to overturn the result, and by the counter-reaction of a push towards extreme forms of Brexit (such as leaving the EU without any deal whatsoever) that would damage this country.
There have been voices calling for unity since June 23rd, but invariably they have been successor organisations to one or other of the campaign groups, and hence not able to attract support across the political spectrum. This is why I believe that the time is right for ‘Brexit Together’ to work to build consensus around a good deal for the whole country.
We need to move beyond the labels, beyond the bitterness and beyond the battle over the vote. This means that unreconciled Remainers need to accept that the UK is leaving the EU, and Leavers need to recognise that 48 per cent of our fellow Brits voted to Remain. Any deal that does not respect the desires of as much of the electorate as possible will only exacerbate the current situation. This also means that we all (Leave, Remain, Left, Right) need to compromise; a successful Brexit deal can not be the property of a single party, or solely the work of the 52 per cent.
What does this mean in practice? I firmly believe it means that we need a deal which delivers the meaningful repatriation of sovereignty and control reflected in the vote to Leave, whilst also protecting the close trading relationship with our friends in the EU that was the most important concern of those who wanted to Remain.
This means working hard to achieve the closest possible comprehensive trade and standards deal with the EU27, seeking to minimise both tariff and regulatory barriers to trade. This also means that we will almost certainly need to leave the Customs Union in order to negotiate more freely on the global stage.
Migration was another key concern of Leave voters, and I believe that it would be unrealistic to expect them to accept a settlement which did not meaningfully change the basis on which EU citizens are able to settle here. Unskilled migration is a particular concern to many Leave voters, and it is likely that restrictions will be placed on it. However, we should also seek to agree a new, positive migration deal with the EU that may well provide enhanced (reciprocal) rights for its citizens. We should also guarantee the status of all three million EU nationals currently in the UK as soon as is practical, and seek a reciprocal commitment for those British citizens who have made their homes across the EU.
Throughout all this, our commitment to regional security must remain as strong as ever. Whilst NATO is likely to continue to be the primary instrument of common security for the continent, we should continue to be happy to take part in joint UK/EU operations when it is in our mutual interests
We can achieve a deal like this, but it needs us all to ‘move on’ from the battles of the referendum. Whether you were a Leaver or a Remainer we are all Britons; we all have a vested interest in ensuring the best future for our country. We need to heal the wounds of 2016, and press on into what I am sure will be a bright future.
I believe that the ‘Brexit Together’ manifesto, published earlier this week, represents an excellent first step on this journey, and I would encourage everyone, however they voted in 2016, and whichever party they support, to read it, share it, and hopefully have a constructive conversation about it with someone who has different political beliefs to you.
We have now taken the decision to restore mature self-government to this country; the UK’s future is ours to write, and so it’s now time for both sides to show the world that we are confident in the decision we have made.