The vote to leave the European Union was the catalyst for the biggest political change in this country for seventy years. The magnitude of it really cannot be overstated and it is slowly beginning to sink in. No one, not even those who voted for it, can say they haven’t had a moment of feeling overawed. Anyone who has been shocked by the immediate fallout has shown a great deal of naivety; for Britain and Europe, this is huge. The changes that Brexit will bring about will not be felt just in the initial year or so, it will be a chain reaction lasting for decades.
Many remainers have refused to accept the outcome. They have convinced themselves that Leave voters didn’t know what they were voting for and that we are leaving in a pique of anti-immigration rage. The evidence thus far challenges their theory; according to Lord Ashcroft’s poll 49% of Leavers said their main reason for voting was to ensure that decisions about Britain were made in Britain. Similarly, a ComRes polls found that the ability of Britain to make its own laws was cited by Leave voters as the most important issue when deciding which way to vote (53%). This gets to the heart of the matter. The Leave vote was motivated by the desire for Britain to be a self-governing country. This is a fundamental principle; it cannot be disproved and it cannot be overruled by experts. People’s understanding of what this means will have varied from the basic to the sophisticated but it is an inherently valid reason.
We are in for a period of economic difficulty and political upheaval. Many Remain voters and commentators have already judged Brexit a failure based on the first two weeks. They pounce on every piece of bad economic news and say “we told you so!” They point to the tremendous difficulties and complexities and conclude that Brexit is simply not worth the effort. As the extent to which we have lost the capacity govern ourselves is exposed for all to see, they would rather we quickly ran back to the comforting arms of our supranational government in Brussels. We Brexiteers must not be so defeatist.
I have contempt for those who mockingly point to the fact that our government lacks the necessary capability for Brexit as a positive reason for being in the EU. Of course the Civil Service is under resourced for the task at hand; of course we don’t have the trade negotiators and all the necessary expertise to manage the vast areas of policy making we will be repatriating. This is what it means to be a vassal state; but we mustn’t cower from the challenge of national independence.
During the referendum campaign many people said to me that they had little faith in the talents of our current batch of politicians to handle Brexit successfully. I pointed out that if there was a dearth of talent in our political system it was a direct result of having outsourced government for forty years and relegated our system to that of a provincial administration. If the serious business is taking place elsewhere, can we really be surprised by the creeping mediocrity and brain drain evident in British politics? Should we be shocked that the increasingly resentful and apathetic British people felt an inability to bring about meaningful change until the referendum, at which point they grasped the opportunity and spurned the establishement?
There is not a single part of government policy that the EU does not touch in some way; from trade to fishing, agriculture, energy, environment, transport and telecommunications policy. We are bound by the EU’s position in international organisations and international conferences, meaning we have been gradually losing control of foreign policy too. This has been a contributing factor to our muddled and reluctant presence on the world stage and the starving of personnel and funds from our Foreign Office.
The subordination of our institutions of government has meant that everyone from the Minister, to the MP right down to the councillor is restricted and working within parameters that are not conducive to new ideas and innovation. Leaving the EU has the potential to reinvigorate British democracy and bring about major reforms in the way we are governed. The reformation of British politics will demand dynamic personalities, world class talent and fresh thinking.
Brexit is going to be a difficult and complex process and it will take a long time. There are serious risks too. We need to manage our transition sensibly and protect our economy by adopting a transitional arrangement in our negotiations. However, we will soon be in a position to begin repatriating vast policy making powers and begin a comprehensive review of the statute books. Let us not be daunted or allow a fundamentally positive development to be shrouded in pessimism.
This is the biggest political project since the Second World War. We have before us a monumental task; the rebuilding of British governance and the construction of a new Britain. This is something we should be tremendously excited about.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty