Matthew Elliot is a Senior Fellow at the Legatum Institute, Editor-at-Large of Brexit Central, and is the former Chief Executive Officer of Vote Leave.
Despite the recent fightback from recalcitrant Remainers, led by former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and John Major, it is well worth remembering the majority of Brits have been keen to put disagreements over the referendum behind them. Far from trying to re-fight the battles of 2016 and perpetuate Leave-Remain divisions, most voters are now keen to embrace Britain’s post-Brexit future, regardless of which way they voted. Indeed, a recent ICM poll showed that 68 per cent of people now agreed that the Government should simply get on with delivering the result.
Among them have been many MPs who were wholehearted supporters of Remain during the referendum campaign, but have now embraced the result – the largest number of votes for anyone or anything in British electoral history – and are determined to push for the best possible future for Britain outside the EU.
For example, Grant Shapps is now backing Brexit “all the way, as hard as you like”. Nick Boles has called for Britain to leave “without recriminations or regret, and challenge ourselves to develop a twenty-first century model of openness and dynamism that will be a lesson to the world”. And it is easy to forget that Theresa May, the Prime Minister who has pledged to lead us towards a new ‘Global Britain’, was indeed a Remain supporter herself during the referendum.
Countless business leaders who backed Remain, both from British and international firms, have hailed Brexit for the huge opportunities it brings, while trade experts, such as my colleague Shanker Singham, heading up the Special Trade Commission at the Legatum Institute, have got fully behind the result and are applying their considerable knowledge and experience towards shaping the optimal Brexit which allows Britain to flourish.
There is no doubt that many Remainers still feel uncomfortable about one major aspect of Brexit – immigration – in no small part due to the often inflammatory rhetoric of Nigel Farage and his allies. Anti-immigration quotes from Farage and others are still paraded by some Remainers as representative of the attitudes of everyone on the Leave side, perpetuating the myth that the Leave vote was a vote to pull up the drawbridge on “fortress Britain”.
This inward-looking, isolationist caricature of Brexit is not what I or my colleagues at Vote Leave campaigned for, nor do I believe is it what the country voted for. Throughout the referendum campaign, Vote Leave emphasised that it was not about stopping migration, but controlling it, and we highlighted the many benefits that migration, when managed in a properly balanced way, has and will continue to bring to the UK.
Far from pulling up the drawbridge, we argued that Brexit would give us the opportunity to end the current system which discriminates against talented people who want to come to this country but are not allowed in, simply because they happen to be born outside the EU.
It is manifestly unfair that unlimited numbers of people are allowed to come to the UK from anywhere within the European Union, whilst the best and brightest from elsewhere cannot. Brexit gives us the opportunity to end this discriminatory approach to immigration and implement an immigration policy that selects people based on the skills they have, rather than where they were born.
Whilst the main ‘Project Fear’ predictions of the Remain campaign have been completely blown apart by the flourishing of the British economy since Brexit, it has left an unwelcome legacy, with many of those who supported Remain still fearing the worst as a result of the bombardment of overblown negative predictions throughout the referendum campaign.
It is no surprise that the relentless stream of dire economic warnings and claims that we would no longer be able to live, study and travel in Europe, accompanied by the incessant refrain that Brexit would mean “leaving Europe”, as opposed to simply leaving an unwieldy political project, has left many people in Britain fearful that Brexit will see Britain cut off from the EU. But as time passes, it will become clear that we have nothing to fear in that regard.
The Prime Minister set out a bold and internationalist vision of Brexit in her Lancaster House speech, and made it clear that we will be continuing to cooperate as closely as possible with the EU on everything from economics and trade to security, research and higher education. Indeed, the EU’s Erasmus+ university exchange scheme already includes many non-EU countries as full members, and it would be extremely unlikely for the UK to not continue to be a part of it, not least because the vast majority of the top universities in Europe are actually in the UK.
The consensus around making a success of Brexit is growing ever stronger as people increasingly put the divisions of the referendum campaign behind them. With the doom and pessimism of Project Fear being proven wrong on an almost daily basis, there is every reason to believe that Britain will emerge stronger, more internationalist and more united after Brexit. And the day will come when everyone will be able to say, “We’re all Brexiteers now”.