It was to be expected that there would be outpourings of shock and disbelief over the last few days as the news of the Leave vote sunk in. Grief needs to be let out and people need to process what has just happened. The online petition for a second referendum has attracted over 3million signatures, though its provenance has turned out to be somewhat unusual – the product of a Remain campaigner when he thought Leave would win! Given the margin in the vote we are a split nation(s) and a second vote does not seem to be realistic to me, it will bring serious unrest and anger. Without detail it won’t get us any where different.
We have had bishops tweeting that we now need to heal the divisions. Being courteous to one another would not go amiss and it would help enormously if the name calling stopped. On their own, though, those calls are in danger of being platitudinous. What is now needed is political vision and for the debate to move into what kind of relationship we want with Europe and the rest of the world: how much we want our legislation to continue to reflect EU directions or depart from them. Everything is to play for and this is how any healing will take place through an open debate about what kind of country we want to shape. It will inevitably open divisions, but they are there any way so the best way to address them is to face them. And my guess is that there will be areas of consensus among those who voted for Leave and Remain.
Out of this turmoil a new direction will emerge. Prominent Leave campaigners have already said that the £350m a week is not as available for other spending as they said it would be and we don’t seem to be having an emergency budget either. Both sides entered the ludicrous during the debate and a number should be ashamed of their behaviour.
We now need wise voices to set out where we go from here and how the uncertainties will be answered. These debates will need to take place as part of the Conservative Party leadership election and the Labour Party looks like it is going to have to have a similar discussion. The LibDems look to be formulating their stance too and we may even see new alliances emerge. I doubt UKIP will see their job done yet, because the level of independence is still to be determined as reality bites. Time for them to put some serious policies to their rhetoric. Our national parties, SNP etc, are also assessing where they stand. When the directions are clear I think we need another General Election so that the new government has a mandate to negotiate on our behalf. So here’s a few of the areas I think we need to hear about:
Immigration was a major issue at the referendum and has been for a decade or more. Conservative Peterborough has encouraged it welcoming a diversity of new residents and the contribution they brought, but its MP wants it controlled. A micro-scene of the internal debates within one party. So what level do we want to see – zero is unlikely – and what criteria will be placed on this? What skills are needed? What about refugees from areas where life is hell? There is a migrant crisis at the edge of Europe and it travels because it needs to. It is an international problem and international agreements are needed to tackle it.
Border Controls. Are we about to stop the Channel Tunnel trains at Cheriton in Kent as they enter the UK for passport control? If not there, where? How much will this cost? If we don’t do that how will we police our immigration policy, whatever it turns out to be? Will we negotiate continued freedom of movement with European partners, indeed will we be required to as part of trade deals? Where is the red line on this? What kinds of visas and permits will be required to work or study abroad and for foreign nationals here?
Social Legislation. There is a whole stack of social legislation that reflect European consensus, however determined, so how much of this is now to be reevaluated? Into this we can place how we regard human rights and worker rights. Whoever we end up with will no doubt have a social manifesto.
Marriage of EU Nationals. Here’s one example of social legislation from a Vicar who conducts marriages. At the moment EU nationals are able marry here with the same preliminaries to UK nationals, whereas non EU nationals have to undergo additional checks. What preliminaries are going to be required for EU nationals marrying UK nationals? Will they be treated in the same way as non EU nationals currently are?
Trading. There is a myriad of trading agreements that need to be confirmed or re-examined. At the moment we have open access across borders because we are a trading block. Once we leave it, we are on the outside. How we handle that will be a crucial factor for whether some sectors stay or invest. We cannot have a prolonged period of uncertainty here because markets will not put up with it and decide for themselves.
Extremism and Organised Crime. By definition this operates on an international scale and so information sharing and common approaches are needed. There will need to be a mechanism for this.
Then there is the £350m a week! Clearly some money came back to the UK in subsidies and grants. Will these be maintained – I’m sure the farming industry would like to know this? If not then what will the impact be? Will we be required to pay something into the European pot as an entry fee to the markets, as Norway and Switzerland do? If nothing leaves the shores, see above for the issues to be addressed.
A new relationship with our European partners is going to have to be negotiated and it needs to be set by clear political vision. Those debates needs to start now so that there is a creative focus for the anger, the bewilderment and confusion that is currently rife. Name calling is no substitute for political detail and the onus is now on those who wanted to leave to set out their stall and on those who wanted to stay to say how they would like this to develop given that we are where we are. When the country is split (and split within the splits) the only way forward is to address the issues and open questions, whether we end up leaving or remaining.