I opposed the initiative, which won the referendum on Brexit in June 2016, for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. I saw no merit in the Leave camp’s claim that British sovereignty and independence were somehow impaired by membership. I believed then, and still believe, that we benefited from the cohesion, economies of scale and frictionless trade environment brought about by our free choice to delegate a number of tasks to an entity responsible for carrying them out for the collective benefit of participating members. I also pointed out that we had obtained, through diplomatic channels, the right not to participate in those parts of the European project to which we objected: the Schengen free travel area, the euro and Justice and Home Affairs opt-outs, in particular. Our membership of the European Union was no more, contrary to the unsubstantiated claims of the Leavers, an infringement of the supremacy of Parliament than our participation in any other international organisation, since Europe is not, and never will be, a suprational state.
I opposed, also, the idea that the result of the purely advisory 2016 referendum provided a binding mandate on Parliament to leave at any cost. There was no majority at the time for leaving, because Parliament shared my view that leaving would be an absurd act of self-harm with no discernable benefits. I advocated dissolving Parliament and calling a general election with the stated purpose of settling the issue of our continued membership.
While the 2017 election called by Mrs May did not meet that test, because as Prime Minister she proved unable to provide clear leadership on that, or indeed on any other issue, I believe the election held in December of 2019 does. Boris Johnson has succeeded in convincing the British people to decisively endorse his policy of leaving regardless of the consequences, with the fine print being left for a subsequent diplomatic negotiation to sort out.
While I have not changed my view that leaving is a mistake, and also that it represents a singular setback for other member states, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, that shared our view of Europe as a community of sovereign states primarily engaged in fostering free trade rather than ‘ever closer’ political integration, I accept that the time has come for us as a country to move on and plan our future in the new trading and political context for which the Government has received an unambiguous mandate. I believe Boris Johnson is the right individual to bring us back together as a nation and repair the painful fracture caused by four years of relentless, and all too often hysterical, debate over the merits and demerits of Brexit. And while I regret a decision that turns its back on so much of what made us a great nation, never fearing, from Malborough standing up to Louis XIV to Margaret Thatcher forcing the French to accept the European Single Market, to weigh decisively, and always wisely, in the affairs of the Continent of Europe, I am confident we will not turn our backs on that tradition 1. Britain will remain a force for good, for peace and for prosperity in the world.
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|1.||￪||On this subject, see, for instance, how Britain has been constantly engaged in one European theatre in the twentieth century (John Kieger, ‘The moment the European project first went wrong‘, The Spectator, 9th July, 2019.)|