Last June the British people reflected on their membership of the European Union, and on a turnout of 72 per cent decided by a clear majority to Leave. Just as there are regional variations in voting in general elections, so was it the case in the referendum. But the patterns did not fall along convenient party political lines. Indeed, all the major political parties campaigned for Remain.
The Government intends to trigger Article 50, the mechanism to implement Britain’s decision to leave the EU, in the same month as the EU will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.
These are uncertain times, but it would be mistaken to see the referendum as having caused the divisions and tensions. The referendum exposed and highlighted existing fault lines.
I see the decision to Leave as the logical consequence of three events in the past 20 years. First, the British opt-out from the single currency and the common travel area, known as Schengen. Second, the introduction of the euro. A successful single currency requires political as well as fiscal union. Third, the failure of the EU to reform itself and introduce the democratic checks and balances which the failed European Constitution in 2003 was supposed to bring about.
History provides the context of our decision to Leave. We have decided to take back control over our laws, borders, taxes and trade arrangements. This does not make as any less outward-looking, welcoming or economically competitive. It’s a decision about democratic accountability – something Britain has traditionally been rather good at.
The mechanisms for doing so are untried and untested. This is uncharted territory for the UK as much as it is for the EU. But it is a precious opportunity to rewrite the rules of how nation states relate to each other in peacetime. It will allow us and the EU to look at the challenges of globalisation – the movements of goods, money and people – and respond to them with new institutions. The post-World War II structures are not working any more. We needed the World Trade Organisation to regulate the flow of goods; but we have as yet to find institutions that can respond to the global flows of private capital and the continued flows of political refugees as well as economic migration.
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