On June 23rd fifty-two percent of voters chose Brexit. But what type of Brexit did they choose? While the people’s Brexit decision might sound like a straightforward command for our politicians to execute – it simply requires a British exit from the European Union – in reality it is a much woollier concept, disguising the large chasms between the different visions of life outside the EU.
As such, before Article 50 is officially invoked, the British public must have a final say on the direction of negotiations toward the new political and economic settlement with Europe. Our political parties must set out their stalls on this issue, and put their ideas to the people at a general election.
As it stands all we know of our pending departure is that we will, at some point, leave. “Brexit means Brexit”, as Theresa May so eloquently put it. However, we have heard curiously little on the subject since her elevation to the highest office on July 13th. Presumably Mrs May has a plan for leaving the EU, and shall reveal the plan in her own good time. And of course the plan may be an excellent one, and could enjoy near unanimous support across the nation. But for a proposal which will play a large part in deciding Britain’s long term future, surely a better mandate than that of an internally appointed Prime Minister is required?
Although as a Conservative member and activist I dread the possibility, however remote, of our hard won 2015 majority being depleted or even lost. I am equally worried by the prospect of people feeling cheated by a Brexit unlike the one they thought they were voting for. Sovereignty and immigration were ranked among the most important reasons leave voters gave for their decision, but it is not hard to imagine a Brexit settlement failing to substantively address those factors. If the so called ‘soft Brexiters‘ had their way, then access to the single market might be retained at the expense of any meaningful control of immigration. While this would suit remainers like myself, who value the economic security given by economic access to the EU’s markets and see no issue with the free movement of people, it may well feel like betrayal to the millions who were sold Brexit on the promise of reduced immigration and sovereignty.
And what of the other promises made by organizations such as Vote Leave, the official campaign for Britain to leave the EU, and UKIP? Even if Theresa May decided on what could be described as a ‘Hard Brexit’, and took back full control of our borders and economic policy at the expense of continued close political ties with the EU, would she really feel bound to abide by the promises of Vote Leave to spend our full £18.2 billion yearly ‘membership’ payment to the EU on the NHS (presumably at the expense of areas such as agriculture and science previously funded by the EU)? The mandate of Vote Leave, and the other groups which campaigned for Brexit, clearly does not extend to Mrs May’s Government, not least because of its unclear and contradictory nature. Neither does the mandate of arch-remainers David Cameron and George Osborne, whose manifesto for obvious reasons did not touch upon Britain’s post EU settlement. The current government must prove its legitimacy by competing at the ballot box to show the British people that its plans for the nation are the best on offer.
For many Brexiters though, this call for a general election is simply a thinly veiled attempt to overturn the leave vote via the back door. Indeed, the Liberal Democrats are planning to campaign on a platform of reversing the referendum result. However, they have shown little signs of making an electoral breakthrough at the national level, and it is doubtful that Labour, under the eurosceptic Jeremy Corbyn, would want to risk losing their northern (majority leave voting) heartlands to UKIP by adopting a similar policy. We are all Brexiters now, and a failure to realise this would be showing a contempt for our democracy sure to be punished by the electorate. That said, forty-eight percent of us are not fully convinced by the Brexit project as outlined by Vote Leave and UKIP, and deserve a chance to influence our future outside of Europe. Mrs May should now reach across the aisle to make a bipartisan agreement to hold a new election in the Spring of 2017. Let our political parties put their plans for our future to us. Let the Battle for Brexit commence.