Very Happy Christmas and Happy New Year. The last thing I wanted to do was talk about Brexit – but unfortunately as a Member of Parliament, I simply don’t feel I can avoid the subject. It will be – at least in terms of our politics, economy, and society, the issue which dominates 2019. I hope that – however we voted – we can take 2019 as a time to begin to heal some of the deep divisions which are emerging over this issue. We don’t need a second referendum to tell us that Britain is deeply divided over this issue – or to tell us that whether we had stayed, or whether we had left, almost half the population would bitterly disagree, and that even those who agree on principles would disagree on details. We can see that in our own families. You can’t overcome these divisions through votes.
Instead, we need to begin to think about healing the nation, in the same way as we would heal any damaged relationship. First, we should focus on small steps and practical details – which is why the government and parliament needs to get away from these black and white debates and begin focusing on the details of a 500 page document. Second, we need a safe space to think our issues through – in particular we need a measured, safe transition in which to analyse the challenges of trade, immigration and foreign policy – and even more difficult questions of our national identity and place in the world. We need to do this in a way that brings in North and South, old and young – in a world where social media tempts us only to communicate with people who share our views or narrow identity.
Third, we need to have a clear, optimistic picture for the future. In practical terms that might mean deciding to cooperate with Norway, Switzerland or other states that want to be part of market arrangements but not part of the inner political circle of Germany and France – or we could decide to reach out to emerging markets instead. But – fourth – the optimism has to be realistic. It has to accept the weaknesses as well as the strengths of our economy, and our government (rather than pretending that we are somehow going to find politicians, businesses, and civil servant that we have never had). And we must chart a future that is authentic – that draws on our own traditions, history, institutions and values – not someone else’s – not America’s and not Scandinavia’s.
In short, we need to get away from the rhetoric, focus on the reality, and approach the new year with optimism and humility – and with any luck begin to restore some of the civility and commonsense in our political debate.