The vote’s over. Now the fight for Britain’s future begins.
In the Jewish tradition, a death is followed by seven days of intensive mourning. The “shiva” is supposed to provide an environment for people to come together to offer each other comfort and compassion.
If my Facebook feed is anything to judge by, the mourning process for Britain’s EU membership is well and truly under way. Mourning is important. It allows us to come to terms with what we have lost.
But after a time, it must end. Not only because the decision is final and no amount of change.org signatures will give us a second pop. But also because the next battle just about to begin. And it’s one that is potentially even more important than the referendum itself.
It’s the battle for Britain’s future relationship with Europe.
Over the next two years, the UK government is going take literally thousands of decisions on how we will operate outside of the EU. These decisions will affect our economy, our rights at work, immigration, our relationship with other countries, consumer protections, and much more.
Although the referendum result was decisive on our membership of the EU, it had little to say on a great many of these vital issues.
Right now, Remain supporters are in disarray, mostly using media appearances to ask the Leave side what they intend for our future. That’s understandable — for now. But very soon, the rights of Leave campaigners to dictate terms will fade. The debate will open up for all of us to argue those positions we believe in.
And that means that everything, bar formal membership of the EU, is on the table. Everything is to play for.
Here are just three of the most important battlegrounds.
1. The single market: In, Out, or Sort of?
It took Andrew Marr months to get Vote Leave to take a position on the single market. By the end of the campaign, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove appeared to be against it. Yet the Vote Leave website says: “Britain will have access to the Single Market after we vote leave.”
Depressing as it may be to advocate for the Norway model, where we would pay in the same amount and accept all the rules without any say in how they are made, this may end up as our best bet for a strong economy. Keeping as close as possible to our current trading arrangements could also simplify the process of negotiating new deals with the 40 or so countries with which we currently trade under EU treaties.
Perhaps we can do better. Perhaps we can get a trade deal that looks much like the single market without the bits we don’t like.
But if we don’t get the dream deal, we must do anything to avoid reverting to the lowest common denominator regime offered by the WTO. That would mean paying tariffs on goods, facing barriers on service trade, and having limited recourse if countries break the rules. Staying in or close enough to the single market must be our number one goal.
Of course, remaining in the single market for goods will almost certainly mean staying in the single market for labour, which leads us on to…
2. Immigration: Free movement by another name?
Immigration was the number one issue for those voting to leave. 52% of Leave voters said it was “very important” to them in deciding which way to go. It isn’t too controversial to assume that most of those voters wanted immigration to go down, potentially dramatically.
Yet as late as Tuesday night at Wembley, the Leave team had no official position on whether Brexit would automatically mean fewer migrants coming to Britain. Indeed, many Leave campaigners have talked about EU rules forcing us to be too restrictive on the number of people we can take from outside the EU. That, logically, suggests more might be better.
Immigration is clearly a fundamental issue for many people and must be taken seriously. Genuine efforts must be taken to show that Britain has control of its borders and is able to strike an independent position on who it wants to welcome to these islands.
But what does that mean for EU citizens currently living in the UK? Or their families who might wish to join them? Or those with skills we may value? Or even the needs of many businesses for seasonal or temporary labour, jobs that may not make sense for most full-time British residents to take up.
Eurosceptic MEP Daniel Hannan told Newsnight on Friday that he may be for the free movement of labour, with restrictions only on those who come without a job offer.
There is every hope that the UK can develop an outward-facing, economically beneficial immigration policy, which still allays the concerns of those worried about the level of net migration we’ve seen in recent years.
Immigration, of course, feeds into the concerns many have about insecurity at work…
3. Our rights: Now, it’s our choice
Eurosceptics have for many years argued that the EU imposes unnecessary regulations and burdens on business and individuals alike. Whether it’s bendy bananas or pounds and ounces, the EU has been vilified as the epitome of political correctness gone mad.
It has been argued that few Brexiteers can actually name an EU law they don’t like. That makes it highly likely we will end up in many areas as the government has on the European Convention on Human Rights. Having committed to leave the Convention, the government now finds itself in a period of endless delay as it struggles to come up with an alternative, “British”, bill of rights that isn’t, well, exactly the same.
For those who are passionate about the worker and consumer rights the EU affords, this may be our ray of hope. The forthcoming bonfire of EU rules could well be followed by a Phoenix-like resurrection of the self-same rules from the ashes — this time painted red, white, and blue.
If all that Brexit means for workers’ rights is a rebranding exercise from “European” to “British”, we may well end up keeping much of what we value most about our membership.
Aux armes, les citoyens
And so we find ourselves mourning the loss of our current world order, but with every opportunity to recreate the pieces we valued most. Not because we do not believe in the democratic will or do not respect the vast discontent and deep resentment that many feel towards our current system.
But because putting up trade barriers, drastically reducing immigration, and abolishing vital rights won’t do anything to make things better for those who are currently missing out.
So as you throw away your Stronger in Europe stickers and carry those leftover Remain leaflets to the recycle bin, I make this plea: don’t lose your passion; your enthusiasm; your campaigning zeal. Don’t leave it to Leave to decide your future.
The vote may be over. But the fight for Britain’s future has only just begun.