I supported “Remain” in the Referendum. I was pleased that both Horsham and Mid Sussex voted to Remain but was clearly disappointed by the national result. If we demanded a vote in the Commons in which all MPs were required to vote on this issue on how the majority voted in their constituency (which has been suggested to me by some correspondents) this would leave a small minority of MPs attempting to vote down the referendum. Referenda are very rare in this country and are only used to settle matters of major constitutional significance.
However the implications were spelt out at the time of the vote. I appreciate that the majority for Leave was relatively small but it was a majority. Had the result been the same numbers but supporting Remain I would have dismissed any prospect of holding a second Referendum. I acknowledge concerns about some campaign pledges that were made (the fact that the Leave campaign was comprised of so many different voices meant that all kinds of promises could be made by individuals which pulled in votes but which may have had no prospect of implementation).
However these were rebutted at the time by the Government and any number of “experts”. I have also been asked in the light of the result whether I should have supported 16-18 year olds voting. I set out why I believed we should have a single franchise across all elections (at 18) when asked at the time, I still hold the same view and I think it would be unprincipled to change one’s view because of the result. However what I do recognise entirely is the difficulties this Referendum presents.
The Referendum produced a result and led to the resignation of the Prime Minister. It did not however produce an alternative strategy or alternative Government for us to hold to account on a manifesto. At present there is not a consistent view on what “Brexit” means. On the one hand this could be “Norway” with unrestricted free movement of people, ongoing UK contributions to the EU, UK withdrawal from EU decision making but implementation of EU decisions allowing full access to the Single Market. At the other end it could mean complete withdrawal outside the EU common tariff and reliance on WTO principles to allow us to access that market. This would open up opportunities but will undoubtedly reduce the attractiveness of the UK as a focus of foreign inward investment on which we have been very dependent to support our balance of trade and tax revenues. Although (of course) this may in part be a negotiating strategy Chancellor Merkel and the European Commission have made it clear that they regard these as the choices facing the UK.
While I believe a new PM needs to be appointed as soon as possible I do not believe that we should rush to trigger Article 50, far from it. There are dramatic shifts in opinion ongoing across Europe, shifts to which the Referendum has contributed and which could have a significant positive impact on our eventual outcome after tempers have cooled. We have a number of priorities but uppermost in my mind are: (a) Ensuring that the many hundreds of thousands of EU nationals currently living here and performing invaluable services in the NHS and in every other aspect of UK life know they are welcome here. The incidents of hate crime are absolutely abhorrent and directly contradict what we all, I believe, hold to be the British character. (b) Immediate stabilisation of markets. Having been directly involved in the management of the aftermath of the financial crisis I would encourage everyone not to be overly alarmed by the immediate market reaction. It of course makes a huge difference to pension pot value and investments in the very short term but it will stabilise. Provided contagion does not spread into the Eurozone we will I believe have a more stable market backdrop to the commencement of discussions. Stability is the first step in enabling us to start the process of rebuilding confidence in the UK as a focus for investment. (c) Retaining the unity and cohesion of our United Kingdom. The break-up of the Union would be financially disastrous for Scotland but this does not mean it could not happen in a Referendum. It would be emotionally and practically disastrous for the rest of the UK. This would be at every level: a “hard border” along the Tweed or around Northern Ireland would have huge consequences. On a national basis losing Scotland would have a profound impact on our status in the world and defence capabilities.
The mood in Scotland right now is very concerning, I sincerely hope that passions will cool and I will do everything in my power to help facilitate this. We face the most momentous events for our country in 70 years. As your MP I will do my utmost to encourage sober, reflective and considered decision making as we meet the challenge set out by the electorate.