A note on the EU referendum…
I have been asked by a number of constituents if I will back efforts to overturn the result in Parliament, where it will likely be debated. I don’t believe that would be right or democratic. A clear majority – in a very large turnout referendum – have said they want us to leave the European Union, even despite the odds being so stacked against such an outcome. To ignore it would cause tremendous damage to our democracy and would, in my view, tear our country apart.
I understand that a majority of people in Kingston and Richmond boroughs voted not to leave the EU, but the whole purpose of a referendum is that it is not ‘representative democracy’. It is direct democracy, taking power out of the hands of politicians like me and giving to all voters. In a referendum, every vote is equal. I cast my vote in a way that I believed would best serve our country, and many of my constituents will have done the same. Some of us voted differently, and the beauty of democracy is that we can. As an aside, it is worth noting that if every MP were to vote the way a majority of their constituents voted on this issue, the ‘Leave’ side would win in Parliament with a far, far greater majority than was reflected in the referendum itself.
In a referendum where each vote is of equal value, we must all go with our own instincts. Although I didn’t actively campaign on the issue, I backed Brexit because I felt and feel that is where our best future lies. The democratic arguments in favour of Brexit are, I believe, uncontestable. But more than that – we are the fifth biggest economy in the world. Our Capital is a global one, with global reach. We dominate in financial services, tech, fin tech, media, culture and much more besides. We now have the freedom to do trade deals with some of the fastest growing markets in the world like China and India, and with allies like Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the US. If we believe in Britain, as I do, we have a bright and great future ahead of us.
The challenge now is to make the decision work for Britain, to provide certainty for businesses and to do everything we can to heal the wounds caused during the campaign. That means working on a compromise that reflects the fact that the outcome of the referendum was not a landslide, and it means finding resolution urgently to the issues raised. As an immediate step, it also means providing urgent reassurance to European migrants living and working in the UK that their status will remain unchanged. I have made the point emphatically in Parliament and I voted for an Opposition Motion calling for just that. In truth, there is no prospect of any migrant living in the UK being ‘repatriated’. The Government should make that unambiguously clear.
Finally, it has been said that the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign failed to present a clear alternative plan. I don’t believe that is fair. The Leave campaign was a coalition of people from right across the political spectrum, from the left of Labour to the right of the Conservative Party. And then in a separate outfit was Nigel Farage and his people. It was not a Government-in-waiting, with a manifesto to deliver, and it simply couldn’t have been. Their priorities are very different. On immigration for example, there are those, like Nigel Farage, who advocate very strict limits, and there were other prominent voices who believe the opposite. But all those who voted ‘Leave’ agree on one central issue – that we will be better off outside the EU, in control of our own laws.