Dear Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom
As you well know, last month 17.4 million British citizens, 52% of those registered, voted to leave the EU. At the same time, however, 29 million registered voters didn’t choose to leave. The UK is said to be the mother of all democracies, so the rules of the referendum must hold, and one of you, as the future prime minister, will be charged with taking the UK out of the EU.
For some this is a great relief, for others an equally great tragedy. Opinion is sharply divided. But more than that, the path forward itself is very uncertain. There are many different ways to leave the EU, and to structure relations with the block after leaving. Each alternative has its winners and losers, not necessarily demarked by voting conviction.
Since the government’s position was Remain, the Leave campaign was able to speak to the broad range of interests among voters wanting to exit the EU, offering everything to everyone willing to vote. The outcome is a set of expectations that defy logic and certainly cannot be fully honoured. It is entirely unrealistic that the UK might leave the EU without any cost. The only question is what the cost might be.
My purpose for writing today is to request two things. First, that the strategy to leave the EU take into account the real interests of everyone. That is, the 29 million who didn’t favour this outcome, as well as the 17 million that did. And second, that the process of deciding which interests to prioritise be conducted democratically and entirely transparently.
A practical first step to achieve this would be to conduct an extensive survey of all participants in the referendum, clarifying and collating how they voted and why. In the digital era, this is far less difficult than it would have been in the past. In parallel, the government of course needs to complete a detailed assessment of the economic implications of the various alternatives available.
Once such analysis has been completed, in a transparent manner, it will be possible to show the nation what the real alternative paths forward are. No alternative should be rejected prematurely, including the possibility – even if not the primary government objective – of remaining inside the EU.
It is entirely possible that faced with the realistic alternatives for exit, the public consensus will shift. Abstaining voters might eventually take a position, and other voters might change their positions, once the impact on their lives is understood.
In truth, thanks to the way Leave campaigned, the referendum answered theoretical question: if you could leave the EU with zero risk and only positive implications, would you like to do that? It’s no wonder, in hindsight, that the outcome was in favour of Leaving.
But reality is different from theory. The implementation of this vote will affect each and every British citizen in the UK and beyond, and poses significant social, economic and constitutional risks.
I implore you, for the sake of the United Kingdom and all its citizens, to conduct the strategy to Leave openly and open-mindedly, engaging the population rather than obliquely interpreting the outcome of a very close vote.