Bizarrely, last Thursday evening, over 9 months after the decisive referendum result in favour of leaving the EU, I was at the Cannon Street offices of CMS, the city law firm, debating the question that ‘The UK is leaving the EU’ together with my Colleague Sir Henry Bellingham MP. Against us, and arguing that we won’t leave, were Lord Butler, a former cabinet secretary, and Lord Lester, our most eminent human rights lawyer.
After 15 public debates across the south of England in the run up to the referendum last June, and two of them in the New Forest – head to head with Sir Vince Cable, am I surprised that here I am, still debating whether the decision of the voters will be implemented?
No, I am not. European elites have ‘form’ when it comes to overturning the decisions of voters. The Irish twice voted in referendums not to accede to European treaties, only to be told to repeat the process until they came up with the right answer – which they obligingly did. French and Dutch referendums both decisively rejected the EU Constitutional Treaty (the Dutch by the impressive margin of 68% to 32%). Yet, in all its essentials, that constitution became the Treaty of Lisbon without risking running it past French and Dutch voters again.
In very brief summary of our debate: Their Lordships thought it inevitable that the deal negotiated by the Government under Article 50 will be a poor one. They were equally certain that Parliament will have a ‘meaningful vote’ on the outcome (even if that vote is a vote of no confidence in the Government), and that Parliament will overturn it, and we’d give up on leaving.
My case is that the very suggestion of a ‘meaningful parliamentary vote’ (let alone a second referendum) is a standing invitation to the EU to overturn our decision by punishing us with such dreadful terms that we are bound to refuse.
The only way remove the temptation for them to adopt such a strategy is to maintain the certainty that we are already walking away, that the decision has been made, and that there is no going back.
Only then will it be absolutely clear to them, that their best strategy is to negotiate the optimum deal for themselves, which – given our shared identity of mutual interests, will also approximate to the best deal for ourselves.
The question isn’t ‘are we leaving the EU?’
Rather, the real question is ‘where are we going?’
Few of us went into the polling booth on 23rd of June entirely of one mind. Whilst I was convinced that voting to leave was for the best, nevertheless I was thoroughly aware that there would be costs, disadvantages and risks. It is now the duty of the Government, individuals, and every enterprise in the Kingdom to seize the opportunities that are opening up to us, whilst working to minimise the costs and risks.
This should be the joint endeavour of the whole nation following the decision that voters have made. Unfortunately, a minority continue to put their effort into contriving circumstances in which the decision by voters can be thwarted.