Since the referendum on 23rd June, there has been much debate across the country about what post-Brexit Britain will look like. In Parliament, we have had a number of debates, asked many questions and listened to many statements on the issue. Given the magnitude of the process upon which we are embarking, such debate is understandable, and I would argue should be encouraged.
However, I have noticed that there are some people – a small but vocal number – who are not just reluctant to accept the decision of the British people to leave the European Union, but also don’t really appear to even understand the question that was on the ballot paper.
I’ve heard people argue that whether we actually leave or not is somehow dependent on “the terms on which we leave” or “the deal we get”, while some have even suggested another referendum. But the question on the ballot paper on which the British people voted was very clear: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
The public decided to leave the European Union. No conditions were attached. While many – myself included – campaigned for a different result, I along with most people accept the outcome. Accepting the outcome means that, once the process of leaving the EU has been triggered under Article 50, then after two years the UK will leave the EU.
The ‘deal’ that everyone keeps talking about actually refers to the relationship that the United Kingdom will have with the 27 remaining members of the EU after we have left. This deal, or deals, could cover trade, security co-operation, and other areas where we might usefully work with our European neighbours. We will also still want to continue to co-operate with our European neighbours on foreign and defence policy, though in my view the lead organisations for co-operation in these areas are, and should continue to be, the United Nations and NATO.
There are of course some loose ends that need to be cleared up before we leave the EU, such as our residual contributions to the EU budget for items like European civil service pensions, but these are relatively minor by comparison.
With this in mind, the Government’s main task is to make sure that our future relationship with the EU is the best possible one for serving the British people, our goals and our interests.
The Prime Minister has already set out the important principles which will guide the Government’s approach to negotiations – targeting a deal that will give British companies the maximum freedom to trade with, and operate within, the European market, while ensuring that we are free to decide for ourselves how we control immigration, with laws being made in Parliament, and interpreted by our courts, not made in Brussels and interpreted by the European Court of Justice.
In order to achieve these objectives, the PM and her ministers must have the strongest possible negotiating hand, which means they cannot spell out every detail in public, or even to Parliament, as some people wish them to.
I would urge everyone who wants the best for our country to allow the Prime Minister to enter the negotiations in the strongest possible position by not asking her to reveal our detailed negotiating hand. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer recently pointed out, the other EU countries are being very disciplined and careful not to reveal their position. We must be smart enough to do the same.