Brexit belongs to the British people – not any political party – and the next six months are critical to its delivery

Brexit belongs to the British people – not any political party – and the next six months are critical to its delivery

In one sense, June’s general election result changed everything. Theresa May has lost authority as well as her majority in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister’s weakness has triggered an unedifying scramble for advantage among those Cabinet ministers who have leadership ambitions. In the Commons, some pro-Remain MPs are openly talking about ignoring the referendum result and keeping the UK in the Single Market and Customs Union. Even by the standards of the Lib Dems, the party’s new leader, Sir Vince Cable, has performed a spectacular u-turn by joining calls for a second referendum. Sir Vince’s contortions are shared by hundreds of pro-Remain peers who on the one hand condemn the use of referendums while simultaneously insisting that just one more is needed on Brexit so that they might try and stop it happening.

But in another sense, the election changed nothing. Instead, it restored traditional two-party politics, restored power to Parliament and – a year on from the referendum – demonstrated that Brexit is not a Conservative project. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party is now explicitly committed to respecting the result of the referendum and to leaving the Single Market. Brexit is not the property of any political party – it belongs to the British people. The fact that over 80% of the vote went to MPs standing on pro-Brexit manifestos is consistent with opinion polls held since November 2016 which have shown most Remain voters accept the result and want the Government to get on with the job.

None of this makes me complacent. Those MPs and Lords who want to stop Brexit hope that Theresa May’s minority government may now struggle to pass the legislation necessary to leave the EU. They are forgetting that the role of Parliament is to implement the will of the people, not to try and subvert it. In every focus group conducted by Change Britain since October 2016, Leave and Remain voters have expressed their concern that politicians will somehow stop Brexit happening. If this were to happen, the winners would be the extremists currently operating on the margins of the right and left. That’s why it’s vital that those of us who believe in mainstream, democratic politics now come together and get behind the Government’s legislative programme, and help it get the best possible deal in the negotiations.

Change Britain, the cross-party campaign for a successful Brexit which I launched with the help of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Peter Cruddas and Tim Martin last September, has already played an important role. Last autumn we recruited tens of thousands of supporters from across the UK and organised street stalls, ran advertising campaigns and published reports calling on politicians to respect the referendum result. We also made the case on specific issues like the right of EU citizens to stay in the UK (with the same rights granted to UK citizens living in the EU) and for a fair immigration system which we control. Between December and February our supporters sent over 100,000 emails and letters to their MPs and to peers asking them to vote to trigger Article 50.

Our focus is now on September, when the EU Withdrawal Bill is put before the House of Commons. It begins the legislative process of withdrawal, and parliamentarians from all parties must show their respect for the result by voting it through the Commons and the Lords. Of course there is an important role for Parliament in helping to shape this legislation and MPs should not be shy about embracing their new powers.

The Government also needs to listen carefully to business demands for clarity and time to prepare. There is a strong case for a transition period, as long as it is time limited and that the end goals are clearly defined so that business and government have certainty about what we are adjusting to and can plan accordingly. This means any agreement has to come into force only after a new deal on long-term arrangements with the EU has been struck. The transition period must be flexible enough to allow the UK to adjust to the new long-term EU deal, including the ability to negotiate free trade deals after March 2019. The duration of the transition period must give enough time to change but equally not delay our EU exit – one or at most two years after March 2019 should be the aim.

There will be further legislative challenges ahead, and we will be mobilising our supporters from across the UK so that their voice is once again heard. If you haven’t yet registered as a supporter, please go to www.ChangeBritain.org. In the meantime, we must not lose sight of the progress that has been made since the referendum result, or the opportunities that Brexit creates for this country. I have been struck by the unwillingness from many of my former colleagues in Parliament to see Brexit as an opportunity for them and for the UK’s institutions to have greater powers to shape our own laws. The same is true of many in business and the City, although I welcome growing signs of positive engagement, particularly in financial services. This is the best chance our country has had since 1945 to rethink the way we do things. Our political classes will not be forgiven by future generations if we squander this opportunity and instead waste time trying to subvert a democratic vote.

Sadly this Government has failed to make a strong positive case for leaving the EU.  This “unfrozen moment” in our history gives us an unprecedented chance to begin to rebalance Britain’s economy, introduce more devolution into our politics and build stronger, more resilient communities. Change Britain has joined forces with the Common Good Foundation to launch the Commission for National Renewal. Led by Maurice Glasman and I, the Commission recently held a conference in Birmingham to discuss how the region could champion a new UK-wide approach to building good and affordable houses, widen access to meaningful vocational training and utilise Britain’s world-leading universities and advanced manufacturing to create innovation clusters.

The next six months will be critical to Britain’s future. The prize is a clean and orderly departure from the EU which respects the democratic mandate of June 2016, maintains an amicable relationship with our European friends and makes possible a new confident global role for Britain. For that to happen, we need a united government focused on getting the best possible deal for the UK. We need Parliament to ensure that robust Brexit legislation is in place in good time. And we need policy-makers, business, trade unions, local government, academics and people of goodwill to contribute to a national conversation about how we use Brexit to position Britain to be the most successful country of the 21st century.