As you are aware, it has been fifteen months since the referendum on our membership of the European Union. Fifteen months ago, a little over half of British citizens, who voted that day, expressed a desire to leave the EU. The majority of MPs in the two main parties told you that we recognised and respected the result to leave as representing the democratic “will of the people”. Your tick on the ballot paper: that was just the start of a complex and costly process and, since the day I took over as your prime minister, a little over a year ago, my team and I have been entirely focused on enacting your will. (*cough*)
This past year has been a steep learning curve, not least, for your members of Parliament. You see, we often start with no more understanding of a subject than the rest of you because we are no more or less expert, intelligent, sensible or open-minded, than the rest of you. We are no more or less patriotic or ambitious than you. We are you. Our advantage, however, is that MPs are generally better-placed for access to divers sources in our search for facts, expertise and well-informed opinion and it is our privilege and duty to serve, to our highest ability, your best interests. My duty, right now, is to be straight with you.
Today I have to tell you that this has been a very difficult year. I have charged the very best and most enthusiastic Leave minds available with delivering a good Brexit and, though vigorous in their efforts, they simply cannot reconcile the realities of the choices and consequences with your expectations.
Arguments regarding the real choices and their very serious consequences were not had at the appropriate time. The appropriate time was before the referendum. What was presented to you as a simple choice was disingenuous, at best.
I regret to say that you have been terribly misled. Misled by the enthusiastic wild promises and ill-informed narrative of the Leave campaign; misled by a Remain campaign which failed to acknowledge that your concerns and disaffection were the result of the domestic failings of successive governments.
The lack of affordable housing, work that provides a decent living, rising household bills, the intergenerational unfairness, our underfunded and undermined public services and servants, our disjointed infrastructure… I came into politics to do good. My speech, in Downing Street, a little over a year ago, is why I became an MP and why I was keen to lead my party when David Cameron abandoned his responsibilities. I greatly fear that none of my vision – nor any of Jeremy Corbyn’s vision – is sustainable, perhaps even possible, while we remain on our present course.
You will be aware, I am sure, of the rumours and incidences regarding splits within my Cabinet and my party in general. This is because of the conflict between those who understand and are panicked by the risks and impracticalities and those who feel ideologically certain that leaving is worth any price. The pressure to reconcile such stark difference has been – is – an enormous challenge.
But, quite simply: not a single thing about which advocates of Brexit complain can be adequately solved, if solved at all, by leaving the European Union – the very club that already affords us as great a global and domestic advantage as we could possibly have. Hard Brexit is an abyss and all variations of a Soft Brexit are pale imitations, irrespective of the way you voted.
The world is a confused, frustrated and unstable place, right now. If we continue on our current path, we risk feeling and being quite alone in a precarious and rapidly shifting world. Already we can see that we will be the smallest partner and weakest voice in almost every meaningful circumstance, whether it be trade, technology, environment or foreign conflicts; whether we are acting for ourselves or as part of a collective. The rest of the World understands the dynamics of what we are inviting upon ourselves. They see how we will turn Britain into the country with the most urgent needs and the least leverage. This makes us prey. To allies and foes, alike – from country to corporation. What then of our integrity? What then of our rights, our standards and our ethics? What then for our economy and society? For our prosperity and well-being?
I cannot see how such a reckless course will give this country more sovereignty or strengthen our democracy. My inclination would be to seek to withdraw Article 50 and return to as near the status quo – as a starting point, only – as is now politically, and legally possible. I propose an appeal to the EU for a pause in the current process and to inform them of our intention to hold a fresh public vote.
I do not say this lightly. I do not seek to undermine democracy or ignore your will. On the contrary. I seek to enhance your power through democracy by confirming your will. It will still be your choice. I need you to affirm or withdraw your better-informed consent. To this end, I shall ask the Open University and the BBC to present an objective programme of public information broadcasts.
I am sorry that it has taken so long to be honest with you but Brexit is, perhaps, the greatest act of unnecessary self-harm that this country has ever committed. Yes, of course the European Union is flawed. British democracy is rather flawed, too. Both are best reformed from inside.
There is no deal outside of the EU that can be a real, sustainable and ethical improvement on what we already have. The best place to safeguard and improve our lot is from that established base. I believe that it would be wise to remain and shape our interests as the Union reforms. My most sincere hope is that you will agree.