Theresa May says that the referendum result means we should all come together and collude in a pretence that Brexit is good for Britain. I profoundly disagree.
Too often I hear an argument which begins “The referendum result must be accepted; I regret the outcome, but we have to make the best of it”.
I was a member of the Cabinet which lost power to Labour in 1997. On that occasion I had been closely involved in the development of locally managed NHS Trusts and other health reforms during the 1990’s. My Labour successor, Frank Dobson, made it clear he wanted to reverse those changes. No-one expected me to declare that it had all been a terrible mistake. It wasn’t and I didn’t.
And when Labour government changed its mind and confirmed what was in effect the same policy – under a different brand and with more money – I spoke in its support.
That is how representative democracy works. Those involved in public life seek support for their point of view and when they win, they have a mandate to follow through their policy for as long as they can sustain that support.
But those who disagree with them have not merely the right, but the obligation, to argue their case, not out of a misplaced commitment to consistency, but because our society benefits from noisy debate between those with different points of view.
So it is with the European issue.
It is certainly true that the economic shock effect of the referendum result was not as great as I expected. But that does not change my view that the economic consequence of Brexit would be to create unnecessary economic headwinds which would reduce our economic prospects, undermine our individual living standards and threaten the quality of our public services.
And I observe that this continues to be the overwhelming majority view of not just of professional economists, but also of those in both the public and private sector who are responsible for making the key economic decisions which will shape our future.
But that is not the most important reason why I am a lifelong supporter and the current Chair of the European Movement. That has much more to do with the issues which led to the foundation of the Movement in 1948.
When Churchill spoke at the inaugural meeting in 1948 he did not make it sound like a contract negotiation; he supported European integration because he believed that all countries in post war Europe depended on the success of their neighbours.
Success in one country was an implausible basis for policy. If that was true in 1948, how much more true is it in the age of globalization?
I am opposed to Brexit because we believe it represents an attempt to insulate Britain from the modern world. The case has been built on a series of undeliverable promises which threaten not merely our living standards but the system of values, friendships and alliances which Britain has built in the post-colonial era.
It is an elaborate gothic fantasy, worthy of Ludwig of Bavaria. But it is built on quicksand and there is an urgent public interest in ensuring that it is exposed.
In a healthy democracy those who take this view not only have the right to make our case; we have an inescapable obligation to do so.
European Movement UK