I was, and still very much remain, deeply opposed to the referendum on whether or not the UK should remain within the EU, and on the outcome which was decided by a small minority of those who voted and which is moving towards the UK leaving the EU (see my views on why we should remain in the EU here). The referendum should never have been called, since in a representative democracy, decisions are delegated to elected representatives. The campaign itself was full of half-truths and deceit, especially promulgated by those in favour of leaving the EU. The UK government is spineless in taking the tough decision not to accept the referendum outcome in the interests of the country as a whole.
I have therefore been taking whatever action I can to promote the case for remaining, even despite the referendum outcome. As part of this process, I sent the following e-mail to the President of the European Commission on 28th June.
Dear President Juncker
You and colleagues at the European Commission must be feeling very frustrated with the people of the UK. I am so sorry for this. I believe that the majority of people in the UK do indeed value their European heritage, and indeed want to remain as the integral part of Europe that we are. I would therefore urge you to explore ways through which the very unfortunate decision by a relatively small number of people in the UK might actually be rejected, and not to press too swiftly on accepting the outcome of the referendum. As you are well aware, there are discussions in Scotland and Gibraltar, as well as a petition to the UK government with almost 4 million signatures on it, about how we might explore ways of remaining an integral part of the Union. A welcoming voice from you to those of us in the UK who value Europe would be very much appreciated.
Let me take this opportunity to remind you that only 17.4 million people voted to leave the EU, representing but 37% of the electorate (for clarity, I note that the turnout was 72.2%, so 27.8% failed to vote). However, the total population of the UK is around 65 million people, and includes the young people below the age to vote who will be most affected by this decision in the long term. Therefore, only 26.7% of the people of the UK actually voted in favour. How can we accept such a decision? Almost three-quarters of the UK population did not vote to leave Europe.
It is critically important at this juncture, when extremist people who did not tell truths to the UK population have gained the ascendency, that our friends in Europe do understand that there are very many people in Britain who value our historic and contemporary links with our European brothers and sisters, and do not want these to be yet further tarnished by the behavior of selfish and arrogant people in our country. You will have seen the behavior of Mr. Farage today in the European Parliament where he was described by MEPs as a liar who used Nazi propaganda. We cannot let people such as him come to power. Yes, in a democratic society all voices must be heard, but we must do all that we can to prevent those who can cause such damage from coming to power. Most people in Britain are not racists or fascists.
I do hope that you can have the statesmanship and leadership to be able to act wisely in this difficult situation, and recognize that it is in Europe’s interest to hold on to the UK, and not to let a relatively small group of people do irreparable damage.
With best wishes
I had not expected a reply, but thought that if enough people wrote then at least he would know that wise people in the UK were dismayed by the outcome of the referendum. I was therefore very pleasantly surprised to receive the following e-mail yesterday:
Thank you for sharing your views with me following the result of the United Kingdom’s Referendum.
I am sad about the choice of the British people. The European Commission worked hard to keep the United Kingdom in the European Union.
European leaders offered the United Kingdom a fair deal that reflected their hope that the United Kingdom remained part of the European Union.
This is an unprecedented situation but the European Union will stand strong and uphold its core values of promoting peace and the well-being of its peoples.
I truly hope that the United Kingdom will be a close partner of the European Union in the future.
I wish you well.
200, rue de la Loi,
To be sure, this is probably a standard e-mail, written by an official (which is why I feel that I can make it public), but I just wanted to share it here because it seems to strike such a generous and thoughtful chord, typical of our brothers and sisters in other European countries, who care deeply about the UK.
This can be contrasted, for example, with the response I received on 6th July from Philip Hammond to a similar letter that I sent him:
Thank you for your recent correspondence about the result of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union.
The British people have voted to leave the EU and their decision will be respected. The Government will now prepare for a negotiation with the European Union, working alongside the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland governments, to ensure that the interests of all parts of our UK are taken properly into account in that process.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has announced that he will step down in the coming months, stating that new leadership is required for this important next step in the UK’s path. The Prime Minister has also announced that he will leave it to his successor to decide when to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and begin the formal two-year process of exit negotiations.
Article 50 is invoked only when the Prime Minister writes to the European Council. Parliamentary approval is not required.
The Treasury, the Bank of England and the Financial Conduct Authority have spent the last few months putting in place robust contingency plans for the immediate financial aftermath in the event of this result, and the Bank has announced that it stands ready to provide £250 billion to continue to support banks and the smooth functioning of markets.
I can also reassure British nationals living in European countries and European citizens living here in the UK that there will be no immediate changes in their circumstances.
There will be no immediate change in the way Britons can travel, in the way our goods can move or the way our services can be sold. The UK will remain in the European Union with all the rights and obligations of full membership, while we negotiate our exit with our European neighbours.
Speaking personally, I am disappointed by the result because, as I said during the campaign, I believe that Britain is stronger, more influential and better off inside the European Union. By voting to leave, we have set ourselves a huge economic challenge and, in the short-term, we can expect a negative impact on living standards. The Government’s job now is to do everything in our power to negotiate the best possible deal with the European Union to minimise the negative economic effects in the medium- to long-term. In parallel, we will need to start to re-shape the UK economy for life outside the EU.
The British people have spoken and our job is to implement their decision. I will do so to the best of my ability in whatever capacity is asked of me. The challenges ahead will require steady hands, good judgement and solid pragmatism. The zealous rhetoric of the campaign needs to be put behind us. In my judgement, the person best able to deliver these qualities is the Home Secretary, Theresa May – and, for that reason, I will be backing her in the leadership contest.
On the specific concerns you raise about the validity of the referendum result, I do not believe it would be appropriate to have a second referendum on our EU Membership and the Prime Minister has been clear that this is “not remotely on the cards”. The British people voted, through a free and fair referendum on 23rd June, for the UK to leave the European Union. Whatever one’s view of this decision, it must be accepted, and the process of implementing the decision in the best possible way must now begin.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
I do not think that the referendum was necessarily fair. The British public was beguiled by lies, half-truths and deceit promulgated by deeply unpleasant, arrogant and selfish people such as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and Nigel Farage, who had no realistic plan for the future. It is to be regretted that Boris Johnson has been made Foreign Secretary in the new Tory government, much to the dismay and bafflement of senior officials across the world. It is, though, at least some good news that Messrs Gove and Farage are currently in the wilderness.