As both a Liberal Democrat and a staunch Remainer, it’s safe to say that the result of the election was not what I had hoped for when the campaigning began so optimistically a few weeks ago. Yet I feel curiously at peace with the result – why?
Whatever side of the Brexit debate you stand on, I hope we can all agree that the original referendum had some gaping flaws. The campaigns on both sides were dismal, and I believe that part of the reason for that is that nobody in politics expected the result that we got. David Cameron thought he would get an overwhelming vote for remain, and even Boris Johnson himself admitted it was unlikely that Leave would win. Out of this unexpected result came all sorts of problems: What sort of Brexit had we actually voted for? Was the country changing its mind as the realities of Brexit unfolded? The original result was scarily close to 50/50, which meant that a different result might be possible now that we’re all Brexit experts – should we not find out? All of this led me, and others, to believe that a second referendum once a deal was agreed was the only democratic way to ensure that what was implemented was truly the will of the people.
Of course, the Liberal Democrats went one stage further, promising to revoke Article 50 unilaterally if they were elected to Government – a pledge that was widely criticised as un-democratic. I disagree with that view – an election by its nature is a democratic process and voters are free to choose which party to vote for based on their manifestos. It would have been impossible to elect a party which stood firmly on the Remain ticket, and then expect them to negotiate and implement Brexit. In fact, Boris’ commitment to ‘Get Brexit done’ is no more or less anti-democratic than the Liberal Democrat promise – it’s just the opposite stance.
But this precisely why I feel at peace with the result. The Conservative party put implementing Brexit at the core of their manifesto, and they won an overwhelming majority including seats that have never had Conservative MPs before. Whatever your views on Brexit and the original referendum, we’ve had three years to understand what it all means, and the result of this election shows that the will of the people is more determined than ever that we should go. There is no point in another referendum when you have a result like this. It’s over; time to move on. Boris has an unarguable mandate to deliver Brexit.
Yes, I still worry about the effect Brexit will have on our Manufacturing industries, who rely on just-in-time supply chains and seamless trade with Europe. I don’t think that a free trade deal with the USA is going to be in our interests; Donald Trump is never going to sign a deal that isn’t heavily weighted in the USA’s favour. In a world increasingly conscious of climate change shipping goods halfway round the world to Japan, Australia and New Zealand seems counter-intuitive to me when we have a vast trading bloc on our doorstep. For those reasons I hope Boris is successful in striking a good trade deal with the EU.
I notice some Remainers are starting to think about campaigning to re-join the EU. I will not be among them. Once we leave I believe we have to stay out and make our own way. One of the reasons I was against leaving in the first place is that we had a number of advantageous concessions that other EU member states didn’t. We kept our own currency, we were exempt from any closer integration, we had substantial rebates, and we weren’t part of the Schengen area. None of these concessions would be available to us if we were to apply to rejoin.
And what of the Lib Dems? It’s easy to look at the results and argue that they’ve been punished for trying to stop Brexit. Yet I understand they received 1.2 million more votes than they did in 2017; In Sevenoaks, where I live, they moved from 4th to 2nd. Not enough to get the seat, but a significant gain. I’m sad that we’ve lost Jo Swinson. I voted for her to lead the party back in the summer because I liked her passion and her straight talking. I think there are two things the party needs to learn from: Firstly, however straightforward it looked to people inside the party, the ‘Revoke Article 50’ pledge was probably a mistake. It was misunderstood and led many people to believe that our centrist liberal party had somehow become extreme. The second thing that I was surprised by was how much anger there still is about Austerity and the Coalition years. I don’t think Jo was able to make a convincing enough case about how much the Liberals prevented even harsher cuts, and she was punished for that. Nobody liked austerity. I’m not enough of an expert to say whether it was necessary or not – all I can point to is the alleged postcard left by the outgoing Labour government which said something like “there’s no money left”. Whatever the rights and wrongs, I think any new Lib Dem leader must be someone ‘untainted’ by the coalition years, so that the party can move on and put that behind it.
So, I hope we will all accept, even embrace our new future. We’ve had three years of bitter division and uncertainty. Even if the new certainty is not the one we’d hoped for we should be gracious in defeat, and hope that those who voted to leave will be equally gracious in victory.