Three years ago today we voted for Brexit – now it’s time to deliver and unite behind a common purpose of renewal

Three years ago today we voted for Brexit – now it’s time to deliver and unite behind a common purpose of renewal

On this day three years ago, when the polls had closed and the country had finished voting, I was in Manchester as part of a team from Vote Leave at the national count. The exit polls had called the referendum result 48/52 for Remain. We knew the result would be close but in the last two weeks our polling had shown us coming steadily from behind.

The lead swapped during the night as the results came in. We were very slightly ahead until the London counts declared, when we slipped behind again. After 2am we were level once more, but our best districts would declare after 4am. ITN called the result first at 4.40am and the BBC shortly after: there were more votes for Leave than for Remain.

This result had not been easy, we had been up against the EU, the Labour Party, the Conservative Party and Lib Dems and had the full weight of the Treasury and the CBI against us. Yet a majority had voted to Leave the EU.

The vote was not a vote against Europe. Britain is part of Europe and always will be. We are still on the edge of the European continental shelf. Trains still run through the Channel Tunnel. Millions of British people will spend the summer on Europe’s beaches and many thousands of Europe’s citizens will fill our tourist sites. Our love for our place in the European continent is undiminished. Our love for our rich, open and tolerant society has not changed.

This was a vote against the status quo and it was a vote for change. It was a vote against globalisation and for internationalism. It was a vote to take back control from a broken political structure pursuing an agenda of its own.

At the heart of our decision to leave the European Union was a simple truth: within the EU you can elect your government, but more and more of policy is made by Brussels. In Brussels you can make decisions about policy, but you don’t have an electorate – a demos – to give your decisions legitimacy and to hold you accountable. Leaving the European Union gives our voters the power to elect their government that makes decisions about the policy that will affect their lives.

Ours had become a nation divided between those with growing opportunity and communities that had been left behind. When the Remain campaign warned a vote to Leave was a vote for recession, across the country people ignored them because they had experienced hard times and learned to overcome them and they thought things just might improve. In voting to Leave, they voted for hope.

It is time, therefore, for our politicians not just to take back control for themselves, but also to show themselves capable of devolving control to our communities, towns and cities. We should, after all, not sneer at those who feel the need belong to a community, feel a responsibility for their place and their neighbours and expect some respect from those who claim to represent them. From schools to hospitals and care homes, from universities to local research parks – the ability to raise taxes to pay for the services to provide a better and fairer tomorrow require a sense of belonging. 

Three years on and the referendum result is still not accepted by large sections of Remain voters. A lack of political leadership has only served to deepen and entrench political division and we are stuck debating the process of leaving, instead of the opportunity for the UK outside the EU that can help us overcome the reasons that led to the vote.  

This can’t go on, but I do think we are now at a turning point. These next months should be the moment we can grasp the opportunities we get from leaving the EU and begin the process of national renewal.  

The UK can now have a fair immigration system that means we can end discrimination and bring in the talent business and industry need, but in a way that allows us to plan our public services and manage the impact on our communities.

We can keep our financial services industry competitive and the best in the world, support our strategic industries without being overruled by the EU and reach free trade agreements with fast-growing markets around the world, as well as with our EU partners.  

We are now able to take control of money we can and should use to invest in the NHS, skills, education and housing. We can have schools with enough places, communities with enough houses and a health service where you can see a doctor when you are ill.

Up to now our politicians have allowed the Single Market to be put ahead of the social market. We have watched as business imported skilled labour but didn’t invest in the skills and futures of our own young people. We have ignored a growing divide in opportunity between our cities, towns and countryside.

But in the months ahead we can at last begin to move forward and to bring people together behind a common purpose of renewal which encompasses the whole of our United Kingdom.