We can’t let infighting and leadership contests affect the most important negotiations in generations
After the events of last Thursday, it’s safe to say that many were shocked.
In such circumstances, it would be easy to enter a period of denial, to clamour for a second referendum or find a loophole to avoid enacting Article 50. But the British people have made their decision and we must all respect it.
The decision to call this referendum will surely go down as one of the biggest political miscalculations in history: a prime minister calling a referendum assuming that he could only win, with no one—not even those who campaigned for it—entertaining the possibility that the country could vote to leave.
Civil servants who questioned this arrogance and attempted to draw up contingency plans were told not to in case it was leaked, despite such preparations being standard practice in a General Election.
This has led to a government that is woefully ill-prepared to argue Britain’s corner in negotiations.
We cannot leave the planning until we have a new Conservative leader – the British people, the British economy, and the 27 other countries with whom we have to negotiate all need clarity now.
It is therefore urgent that we move swiftly to establish structures necessary to create Britain’s position. We need those structures to make sure that the negotiations are effective, and that they represent the interests of a broad coalition – beyond just one party, one lobby, or one side of the referendum debate.
That is why I was so alarmed when I heard that the Business Secretary, Sajid Javid MP had called together a meeting to discuss the fallout of the referendum result, but had failed to invite any representatives from Trade Unions, civil society or our science and education sectors.
In their place were representative of the Institute of Directors, British Chambers of Commerce and those representing some of the UK’s largest Industries. This is such an overwhelmingly partial response that it can be called laughable.
While Cameron seems intent on deferring every major decision to his as-yet-unnamed successor, it seems Javid and others are seizing the opportunity to stitch up meetings behind closed doors with a highly selective group of people to determine what their highly partial view of the UK’s future should be.
This will inevitably lead to an unfair and unrepresentative relationship with the EU—and not just for those that voted Leave, but for all those that took part in the democratic process.
This is not to say that major business and industry groups should not be included, clearly, they must be. But we must not let our negotiations be dominated by business interests alone.
The shape of the post-EU UK will affect all of us and so we all need a say in what our future will look like.
We need to establish a cross-party commission that involves not just business organisations, but also trade unions, science industries, religious groups and other civil society.
It should also involve representatives of local government and the devolved administrations, to help counter the severe divisions that have been allowed to widen in the process of this referendum.
This new approach could operate in a similar fashion to the Scottish national convention which was widely respected and sketched out the contours for the Scottish devolution settlement.
This body must also be cross-party and operate openly and transparently, ideally meeting in different parts of the country which voted in different directions on the referendum.
We must do everything we can to make this new convention or forum as inclusive as possible on the grounds of location, age, race, education and party allegiance.
We need to start now. We cannot wait three months for a new prime minister to begin setting the agenda.
We need the forum to be established to work alongside those civil servants who are already tirelessly planning a route for us to take to make sure that the future of our country delivers for everyone.
We can’t let infighting and leadership questions cloud the most important round of negotiations in generations.
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