De­featist talk will cost Bri­tain dear

The Daily Telegraph - - Letters To The Editor -

Project Fear has not gone away. There is a tan­gi­ble sense that some of those who were on the los­ing side in the EU ref­er­en­dum are al­most will­ing a calamity in or­der to damn those who voted for Brexit. The out­come ex­posed a deep fis­sure run­ning through Bri­tish so­ci­ety that now risks be­ing widened by the man­ner of the re­sponse.

It is ap­par­ent that many Re­main­ers re­gard Leavers as reck­less at best and xeno­pho­bic big­ots at worst. Any­one who hoped this ex­er­cise in pop­u­lar democ­racy would set­tle the EU is­sue with­out ran­cour has been dis­ap­pointed.

Iron­i­cally, David Cameron hoped the ref­er­en­dum would end Con­ser­va­tive di­vi­sions once and for all. In­stead, it has trig­gered tur­moil in­side the two ma­jor par­ties. Mr Cameron’s de­ci­sion to step down as Prime Min­is­ter has opened up the con­test for his suc­ces­sor.

In the Labour Party, mean­while, nearly half the shadow cabi­net has re­signed in protest at Jeremy Cor­byn’s stew­ard­ship. He seems cer­tain to lose a vote of no con­fi­dence by MPs yet he is deter­mined to stay on, claim­ing a man­date from the largely Left-wing mem­ber­ship. Even if Mr Cor­byn is chal­lenged – and no al­ter­na­tive can­di­date has yet emerged – he is likely to stand again and win, yet have no au­thor­ity where it mat­ters, in the House of Com­mons.

These are un­cer­tain times. The ref­er­en­dum has con­se­quences for Bri­tain that will be hard to man­age if there is po­lit­i­cal up­heaval. There can be no great sur­prise that peo­ple feel un­easy, even fear­ful, given the apoca­lyp­tic warn­ings of eco­nomic catas­tro­phe is­sued dur­ing the cam­paign.

But it is now in­cum­bent upon ev­ery­one con­cerned for the coun­try’s fu­ture to aban­don the doom-mon­ger­ing. Mr Cameron and Ge­orge Os­borne must now pub­licly avow Project Fear and speak up for Bri­tain’s econ­omy. Once the dust has set­tled, there is a great po­ten­tial Brexit div­i­dend that needs to be grasped. Of course, it won’t be easy to un­ravel a 43-year re­la­tion­ship with Europe; but there will be op­por­tu­ni­ties, not just for the UK but for Europe as well if its lead­ers draw the right con­clu­sions from what has hap­pened. If they think it has ex­posed di­vi­sions only in Bri­tain then they are not pay­ing at­ten­tion to what is go­ing on in their own coun­tries.

There is no earthly rea­son why a coun­try sev­er­ing a po­lit­i­cal re­la­tion­ship that was al­ready pretty half-hearted should not flour­ish un­less we talk our­selves into a cri­sis or one is foisted upon us.

The func­tionar­ies of Brus­sels want to ex­pe­dite the Bri­tish exit but their hand has been stayed by elected lead­ers like An­gela Merkel who ap­pre­ci­ate the dan­gers to the whole EU project of tak­ing pre­cip­i­tate ac­tion. Ger­many’s fi­nance min­is­ter Wolf­gang Schauble has raised the prospect of a new as­so­ciate sta­tus for non-euro­zone coun­tries that might meet Bri­tain’s de­sire for greater in­de­pen­dence with­out break­ing up the in­sti­tu­tion.

It is in Bri­tain’s in­ter­est to take this slowly by not in­vok­ing Ar­ti­cle 50 to with­draw un­til in­for­mal talks have taken place to pre­pare the ground. But it is in Europe’s in­ter­est, too. While the Com­mis­sion may re­joice that their most re­cal­ci­trant mem­ber has de­cided to leave, it can­not pos­si­bly be to the ad­van­tage of the mem­ber states to engi­neer an ac­ri­mo­nious di­vorce.

In­deed, if wiser heads pre­vail then the fu­ture re­la­tion­ship be­tween the EU and the UK can de­velop in a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial way. That needs to be the aim now, not more re­crim­i­na­tion and un­nec­es­sary alarmism.

There are many po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tain­ties to ne­go­ti­ate. The coun­try voted against some­thing with­out be­ing able to say what it wanted in its place. That is now a mat­ter for Par­lia­ment, where there is a pro-EU ma­jor­ity among MPs. While they must ful­fil the wishes of the peo­ple to leave the EU, how it is done will be a source of huge con­tro­versy. Philip Ham­mond, the For­eign Sec­re­tary, yes­ter­day said con­tin­ued ac­cess to the sin­gle mar­ket must be the pri­mary ob­jec­tive of ne­go­ti­a­tions, with a “trade-off ” that means ac­cept­ing lim­its on the UK’s abil­ity to con­trol im­mi­gra­tion from the re­main­ing 27 states. But some in the Brexit camp will ar­gue that this runs counter to the coun­try’s wishes im­plied, if not ex­pressed, in the ref­er­en­dum re­sult.

An­other ma­jor is­sue will be the fu­ture of the United King­dom it­self. Ni­cola Stur­geon, the SNP leader, yes­ter­day sig­nalled that Scot­land could veto the UK exit be­cause the Scot­tish par­lia­ment has to agree a Leg­isla­tive Con­sent Mo­tion al­low­ing West­min­ster to pass laws that have an im­pact on de­volved mat­ters, as a Brexit clearly would.

The con­sti­tu­tional im­pli­ca­tions of last Thurs­day’s po­lit­i­cal earth­quake, there­fore, re­main un­clear and may re­quire a gen­eral elec­tion to ad­dress. But, in the mean­time, there must be an end to de­featism. As Franklin D Roo­sevelt said the only thing we have to fear is fear it­self.

Cameron and Os­borne must now pub­licly avow Project Fear and speak up for Bri­tain’s econ­omy It is in Bri­tain and the EU’s in­ter­ests not to in­voke Ar­ti­cle 50 un­til af­ter in­for­mal talks

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