It had long been my belief that the British people should be given the opportunity to determine our nation’s relationship with the EU in a referendum.
Indeed I voted in defiance of a three line whip in October 2011 to that effect – after repeated promises by governments of all colours, this long-running sore needed to be dealt with by a plebiscite.
As you may be aware, it was also my authentic, passionate and long-held view that we should Remain. I regret that the debate over this matter was presented in such black and white terms by both sides, as if doom would follow under one scenario while sunlit uplands greeted the other. Sadly neither the Leave nor Remain campaign recognised the importance of nuance and balance in their arguments, failing to trust that the electorate was grown up and intelligent enough to weigh up the many and varied considerations over trade, global influence, security and democracy.
Nonetheless, I have always had the utmost admiration for the judgement of the British people. They have now spoken, and in record numbers. There can be no question of not respecting the referendum’s result. I can express only regret that I and others who believed we should Remain were unable to persuade enough people of our case.
It is time now to look firmly to the future, and I intend first to expend my energies healing any divides that have opened up during the campaign between different parts of our nation, with international allies and within my own Conservative Party. I have never been so churlish as not to recognise that Brexit comes with opportunities, and I have every faith in our nation’s ability to take a firm and positive grasp of them. As central London’s representative in parliament I intend to put forward a bold, positive and fresh agenda for stable, confident government in the years to come. Whilst recognising the hard labour that lies ahead, I wish to reassure London’s business community that we shall negotiate the best possible terms after our exit from the EU.
Maintaining an effective ‘passporting’ regime is a critical priority for the City of London. We need to maintain as many advantages of the Single Market as are compatible with fulfilling the pledges made during the referendum concerning free movement of people. Naturally those EU nationals currently residing here should expect their status to remain unchanged in this country. Above all I trust that we shall let our continental allies and friends know that the UK vote to leave the EU is not a sign that Britons wish to disengage from Europe. It is merely a call for a change in precisely how we engage. Naturally this will be a genuine challenge for parliament in the months but it is one we can meet. We shall also need urgently to develop a credible trade policy that safeguards access to European markets and promotes the future viability of our financial and professional services sector. In accepting that the nation’s instruction is that we ‘Leave’ the EU, the detail needs to be carefully worked through.
To offer reassurance to those who seek a second referendum, I would say that parliament will need to endorse – and not necessarily rubber stamp – any treaty that returns from Brussels in the aftermath of triggering Article 50. That leaves your elected MPs with plenty of legitimate latitude as to the future direction of our relations with the EU. In essence the details of the arrangements we draw up for our exit will likely be the central issues of the 2020 General Election. At this point each of the political parties will need to make clear whether or not the Brexit deal on the table is acceptable.
Whilst a rerun of the referendum is not a viable option, therefore, equally I anticipate that the UK electorate will within four years have the opportunity to have a further, final say on the matter of our relationship with the EU.