Naked Diplomat Blog

  • Posted on : June 29, 2016
  • Posted by : Tom Fletcher

One week on, many are still in shock at the referendum result. Some are grieving. Some are giving up. But we have had a week to absorb the result. Denial, despair and drift are not an option. We must now get back to work.

The defining moment for the UK’s place in the  21st century is not the referendum, but how we respond to it. The period ahead will require a sense of collective purpose, vision and endeavour that we have not had since the Second World War. We must marshall our best instincts and values, and not our worst. 

 Based on the timetable set out by the PM, we have two phases ahead of us. Most of the focus in the media and political life is now on what happens after September. But it is just as important that we work together during the period of stabilization beforeSeptember. We need to stop the defeatist and declinist talk that is taking up so much oxygen - the world is listening. And rebuild a sense of a shared national project. Politically, this means it is time for the biggest tent possible.

I hope that our national effort can focus more on: 

-       confronting racism and hate crimes – that is not the Britain we know. We all need to speak out more strongly for the vital British values of tolerance and diversity. The right to be racist was not on the ballot paper.

 -       reassurance to our international partners and investors. Business leaders from both sides of the debate should set out how UK business can retain our role as a major trading nation. This is starting to happen - see the pieces by the CBI, Rohan Silva (on British entrepreneurship) and James Dyson. I'm sure that the UK's ambassadors have had instructions to get out on primetime local TV (in the local language), explaining that we remain as open to the world as ever. And that we'll see Ministers despatched to every continent to hammer home the message on Britain’s outward looking offer to the world, based on our history as a great trading nation; our global reach and outlook; and our strengths as a financial centre and creative industries superpower. Time to cancel some Summer holidays ...

-       preparation for negotiations for a dignified exit from the EU. The government will have a crack team preparing options for the next PM, but I hope it will also draw on the knowledge and networks of those who know the EU best, from Cathy Ashton to Nick Clegg to Chris Patten and Jonathan Hill. 

-       shoring up the Northern Ireland settlement. This is urgent. John Major and Tony Blair are well placed to join discussions with the Irish and Northern Irish administrations on how to respond to the new context. No-one knows that terrain better than Jonathan Powell - I hope he is being called in to help.

Phase Two will be under new political leadership. But whoever is chosen to run the Conservative and Labour parties, the next period must be an opportunity for Britain to consolidate its strengths as a 21st century powerhouse based on liberty, tolerance and creativity. And to respond to the referendum by developing a more positive and honest political debate, finding ways to put more power in the hands of citizens, and reinvigorating public life with fresh ideas and individuals. 

As part of this refresh, it is clearly important to have a new conversation on migration, that helps us benefit from our openness and diversity, but ensures that plans are in place for essential services that can keep up. And to make genuine efforts to reduce inequality, and address the anger of those left behind by globalisation.

The key now is to pull together – Remainers, Brexiters and everyone in between - to ensure that negative predictions about leaving the EU are proved wrong. We have to take on growing cynicism, division, fear and rancour. 

Britain can rise to this challenge. The answer to the 21st century is not a bigger wall, so let’s not mistake 23 June as a vote for isolationism. But seize it with confidence as a moment for national renewal and fresh purpose, and rebuild together. 

(Thank you to Nick Jefferson, Jonathan Luff and others for their input).

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