It has been a tumultuous week in British and global politics, and whilst I have adopted a pragmatic approach to the result of the Brexit referendum — embracing the vote to Leave, even though I voted to Remain — on reflection, I may have focused too much on the strong economic arguments that countries like the UK, Norway and Switzerland are better off outside the EU, and not enough on the human impact.
Today I went to my local dry cleaners, and spoke to the husband and wife team who have built an incredibly successful business in the heart of one of London’s nicest neighbourhoods, having moved to the UK from Romania a couple of years ago in search of a better life.
They are two fantastic entrepreneurs who have brought energy, enthusiasm and a great work-ethic to London and who love their new lives here and appreciate everything that living in the UK has allowed them to do.
However, the Brexit result has rocked their world; they are genuinely scared.
They now worry that people don’t want them here in Britain, and that the great life that they have built for themselves is under threat.
They worry about how having to return home might affect their families and their future.
They worry that what they have fought hard to build may be destroyed by a vote in which they had no say and no voice.
We talked about this for about 30 minutes, and it gave me genuine pause for thought.
I remain excited by the opportunities ahead for an independent Britain and the potential for forward-thinking, globally-oriented policies to set us up for success as a major trading partner for the rapidly developing nations that will shape the future world, but, before we get there, we must ensure a number of things:
There must be clarity for the millions of EU nationals living and working in the UK, and a strong political voice confirming that there will not be any push to force them to relocate to the EU once Britain leaves — they must be given certainty about their place in British society.
London must be treated as an exception; most Londoners voted to Remain, and so whilst the wishes of the majority of the electorate must be respected, the Mayor of London is right to seek greater powers to allow people to work in London through some sort of special ‘London visa’, recognising London as a special economic and cultural zone as the pre-eminent global city.
The Conservative Party must quickly select a leader with the skills necessary to unify the nation, but also to negotiate our exit from the EU in an orderly manner.
As a member of the Conservative Party, I will be voting for Theresa May for leader.
She brings experience of serving in Government at a senior level, of negotiating hard with Europe, whilst at the same time being someone who was minded to Remain in the EU despite understanding the benefits of leaving.
Ms May will be able handle the detail and minutiae of the negotiations, whilst not coming from too firm and ideological approach, which rules out Michael Gove as leader in my mind.
We need a 10-point plan detailing the key steps that we will take from where we are today to get to a bright future with the UK outside the EU.
This is a hard road to travel, and one that many of us would not have chosen to go down, but living in a vibrant democracy requires flexibility and collaboration; Brexiters and Remainers alike must now work together to articulate clearly to the world the steps that will be taken and then to make them happen.
HRH The Queen has already provided some of what is lacking in our politicians; a calming voice, urging people to stop and think about the future, rather than rushing into knee-jerk reactions.
Whilst many are putting their energy into trying to secure a second referendum, and into calling anyone who doesn’t agree with their views ‘thick’, or ‘xenophobic’, the sensible thing to do is to develop a clear strategy for the future with a cool head.
Her Majesty said in her speech at the opening of the Fifth Session of the Scottish Parliament that it was a time to allow “room for quiet thinking and contemplation”, and as is so often the case, she is absolutely right.
In my final thoughts, this situation reminds me of my favourite poems, the classic ‘If’ from Rudyard Kipling:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
There is undoubtedly a rocky road ahead, but with the correct approach and the right leadership, the destination will be worth it.