The British people have voted to leave the European Union, but what have they voted for in its place?
That is the question in British politics at the moment. The Prime Minister’s answer – that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ – means nothing. The permutations are almost limitless. An empty catchphrase does not answer the hard questions about what level of access we should seek to the Single Market; what should be done about the free movement of people; and what our future relationship with the EU should be on issues like security, counter-terrorism and environmental protection.
Consequently, there is a huge opportunity to shape the debate and influence the Brexit deal that eventually emerges. That is what we at Open Britain, the successor to the Remain campaign in the referendum, are trying to do.
We are arguing for Britain to continue to be open. The referendum vote was clearly disappointing from our perspective but it must not now become a mandate to make Britain a closed, insular country that pulls up the drawbridge to the rest of the world. To do so, would be to turn defeat into disaster.
What has made Britain great in the past, and will help us meet the challenges of the future, is being open – to trade, investment, business and talent. Open to Europe and to the world.
What does this mean in practical terms? First, it means that we are campaigning hard for Britain to be a member of the EU’s Single Market. It is the biggest market on Earth, and our largest trading partner, buying nearly half of all our exports. It is also a massive driver of investment, as the Japanese Government recently made clear.
Second, we need the closest possible relationship with Europe on other issues. Whether it is on counter-terrorism co-operation, fighting climate change or protecting workers’ rights, Britain does best when we work together with others. Preserving or matching EU funding for our universities, farmers and poorer regions is equally crucial.
Third, and perhaps most controversially, we need to mend, rather than end, free movement. This means not throwing the baby out with the bathwater but seeking to lead the debate that is heating up across Europe about how the system can be reformed – perhaps, for example, by moving to the free movement of ‘labour’, rather than ‘people’.
Unless those of us who believe in a continuing close relationship with Europe engage with the substance of these upcoming negotiations, the field will be ceded to Leavers hell bent on the kind of hard Brexit that would take us out of the Single Market and close us off to the world. I do not believe that is what the country voted for and I do not think it would be in Britain’s best interest.
Measurement and evaluation