As a passionate supporter of British membership of the EU, I was deeply disappointed by the vote in the referendum for Britain to leave.
But pro-Europeans must not, after a narrow defeat, simply cede the field to our opponents and cease to engage with the debate about the UK and Europe.
We have two vital tasks going forward. First, we must hold the Leave campaigners to account for the impossible promises and cynical myths they told during the campaign – especially those who now find themselves as leading members of the government. Second, we must fight for a progressive and positive future vision of Britain’s relationship with Europe, one which preserves as many of the benefits of our EU membership as possible.
Vote Leave campaigners made no shortage of ludicrous promises and claims during the campaign. Post-Brexit Britain, apparently, would have the money to spend £350 million more a week on the NHS; spend more money on schools; scrap VAT on household energy bills; and continue and even increase funding to farms, universities and regions that currently comes from the EU. All this despite the fact that the £350 million figure was rightly described as “misleading” by the UK Statistics Authority. They also declared that a vote to leave would not involve any economic damage at all, and that any experts who suggested so were “scaremongering” and “talking Britain down”.
The weeks since the referendum have proven how hollow these promises were. The Prime Minister has publicly quashed numerous promises made by her senior ministers, such as radically increasing the NHS budget. And while the economic picture is mixed, some damage has undoubtedly been done, with the pound crashing to its lowest level in 30 years. They must be held to account for these broken promises, which is what Vote Leave Watch, the campaign I chair, is doing.
But we must also fight for a progressive, European future for Britain. The government’s deal with Europe must keep some of the best aspects of our EU membership – our place in the Single Market, rules protecting the environment and workers’ rights, and close co-operation on security.
We should be seeking to reform free movement – free movement in the EU as we know it was rejected in the referendum, so we should work towards an alternative that would be acceptable to the majority of our citizens. Immigrants from the EU and across the world have made a vital economic and cultural contribution to our country which is why even those who voted for us to leave wish for EU citizens already here to be guaranteed the right to stay.
If pro-Europeans can succeed in these tasks, we can shape the public debate to bring Remainers and Leavers behind an open, engaged, and positive future for our country.