What might have been…


Soon we will have a new Prime Minister. In spite of much grandstanding, neither of the two remaining candidates have a credible plan of how we can leave the EU smoothly and without causing major economic and social disruption. That is not surprising.

The new PM will find himself in an impossible position simply because the last three years cannot simply be erased from history.  We have created a divided country with many people having become radicalised extremists – either arguing for leaving quickly whatever the economic, social and geopolitical cost; or arguing to chuck the whole thing in and remain.

Both are extreme positions. And neither side is in the mood for what is necessary to reunite the country.

No new PM can erase the divisions and start the Brexit debate afresh.

But need it have come to this? Could it have been avoided?

Here is the text of the speech that David Cameron could have given on the steps of Downing Street following the referendum result:

“Good morning.

Yesterday, the British public voted narrowly for this country to leave the European union. Seventeen and half million people voted to leave. Sixteen and a half million people voted to stay.

Legally, the referendum was advisory in nature. But I promised that I would respect the result – and I will.

We now have a difficult task ahead. That task is to find a way of delivering Brexit in the true spirit of democracy – accommodating the wishes of the majority while respecting the views and needs of the minority. That is what I will do because it is the only way to unite a country that has been through a difficult and sometimes divisive referendum process.

I recognize that our component nations voted different ways. We are a union of nations and will remain a union of nations. That can only be achieved if we respect everyone’s point of view.

I accept that I have created a difficult task by opting for a referendum and failing to persuade enough of you to vote to remain in the Union. I will not shy away from seeing through the consequences of my decisions.

I am therefore today announcing three major government programmes.

The first is a programme to work out how we will deliver on the result of the referendum.

We have been instructed to deliver Brexit but none of us know what shape that Brexit should take. Or the various practical and technical issues that are involved in unwinding the close relationship with our European partners that we have built up over forty years.

I am therefore announcing that I am setting up a new ministry to examine these fundamental questions.

Its first task will be to set up an expert cross-party parliamentary commission to examine all of the issues that we have to resolve as we leave the European Union. To come up with options for how Brexit might be delivered.

They will be given a blank sheet of paper with no preconditions and no red lines. They should evaluate all options with an open mind.

All their work will be carried out in public and be fully transparent so that all of us can understand, throughout the process, the issues that we have to resolve to move forward.

The commission will be made up of representatives from each of our political parties and representatives of both leave and remain campaigns.

Part of the commission’s task will be to involve the public in their deliberations. It will set up a national public consultation process in which all citizens will be invited to participate through public sessions held throughout the country. We will take on people’s suggestions on how best to approach the Brexit process.

Our second programme will focus on addressing the underlying causes of the referendum result. I realise that, as much as a vote to leave the EU, the referendum represented a cry of frustration and even anger at how our system is failing many. I intend to change that.

I recognise that my government has not achieved as much as we would have liked to achieve for the people of this country. Much of our efforts over the last six years have been consumed with dealing with the traumatic aftermath of the financial crash. This was an essential task. But we did not do as much as we could have done to address both the causes and the effects of the crash.

Many in our country feel that our system is not working for them. They feel ignored and left behind. Inequality is growing. The financial restraints thrust upon us by the crisis have forced us to cut back on our public expenditures with inevitable consequences for public services and support for the most vulnerable.

That time is over. I am therefore announcing a major regeneration programme that will focus resources on creating the sort of country we can all be proud of. This will require the commitment, boldness and creativity needed to deliver radical change.

We cannot just look back and hope that we can return to a past world. We will be looking for ways to make this country fit for the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century. Opportunities from which all of our component nations, our regions and our people will benefit.

I will be appointing a Cabinet Office team to coordinate this programme. They will lead the initiative across all out ministries and we will deliver change for the better.

My third initiative will be one of engagement with our friends and partners in Europe.

Even as we leave the EU, it is in all of our interests to have a strong, stable and prosperous Europe. For the European Union to lose one of its largest members is not what anyone would have hoped.

I will, therefore, engage with our partners so that we may jointly understand the aspects of the Union that led to the British vote to leave. Anti-EU politics is not something that is, today, limited to the UK.

I will work with our partners to discuss how the EU might evolve to become stronger, more effective and more connected to its citizens.

As we are on our way to leaving the formal structures of the Union, it will not be my place to push for reform. However, I hope that our experience in Britain might be helpful to our partners as they consider their future direction.

The people of our country have narrowly voted to leave the EU. I commit to doing so. We will do so carefully, deliberately and in a manner that is both well prepared and respectful of how everyone has voted in this referendum.

I will leave you with a quote from the great John Maynard Keynes:

“Those who seek to disembarrass a country of its entanglements should be very slow and wary. It should not be a matter of tearing up roots but of slowly training a plant to grow in a different direction.

Today we start the process of slowly training this country to grow in a different direction.

Thank you.”

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.


  1. Stephen Gwynne says

    I like that. Certainly would have created a reassuring atmosphere and a sensible, inclusive platform from which to disentangle from the EU.

    I wonder if this statement would have abated the dissenting voices amongst the Remainer camp. Possibly if Cameron was prepared to sustain and assert this narrative, forcefully if necessary.

    A fault identified by the Leave camp was that after Leave gained the narrow majority position, there was a tendency to sit back with the trust that Parliament would deliver on the result. This trust was misplaced and instead the Remain camp used the lull after the referendum to capture the narrative and define the terms of the debate, which in the main rejected the result, rejected the 17.4m that voted leave and rejected the legitimacy of the referendum itself.

    Possibly, this intransigence would have been avoided if the PM had asserted control over the narrative from the very off.

    Instead, remainer intransigence, which was fully exploited by Corbyn, has led to a deep polarisation of Britain, with Leavers having to spend the last two years taking back control of the Brexit narrative, which is now pretty much complete.

    Perhaps this speech is still required although it will undoubtedly prolong departure by at least another two years with recriminations from the last three years still festering in the background.

    In conclusion, I would add that Brexit is not only about the misgivings of a supranational free trade system that subtly awards greater rights to foreign nationals over and above the rights of nationals but is predominantly about the British way of life.

    The EU framework encourages a way of life that is libertarian at heart with fundamental protections awarded to sustain that libertarian outlook. This created a way of life that centred on individual freedom and the freedom of the individual to extend themselves into the private personal space of others. This way of life is typified by ranting protestors storming Mansion House with their intimidating and threatening behaviour legitimised as free speech and free expression. It is also typified by the uncaring commuter who blasts out their music that nobody else wants to hear. In short, this boundaryless libertarian way of life creates an environment of undue entitlement which can only be restrained by the awkward politeness of asking the source of the disruption to retreat back into their personal space.

    This approach is completely at odds with the British way of life that defaults to manners and the respect of other people’s space. Therefore rather than blasting out music with libertarian abandonment, the British way is to at least ask your neighbours if the intended behaviour is OK. The British way is not to create annoyance and assume any annoyance will be expressed as politely as possible.

    The libertarian approach doesn’t think of others first, it thinks of self first. The British way thinks of others first and self second and is the basis of our manners, our reserved introspective nature and our ability to humorously self depreciate.

    If there is one single thing that underpins the Brexit vote is the protection of this peaceful, selfless British way of life as a distinctive quality that emerges from our liberal, democratic and market based traditions. As such, we highly value the subjective, the introspective and the creative space of others.

    We do not value this libertarian self entitled way of life that requires our values to be constantly defended from libertarian invasion. Not that our values should be constantly upheld in every situation but that everyone understands that they are our moral and ethical default.

    Diverse national distinctiveness is an important aspect of European resilience. We as a Europe of Nations bring to the table diverse talents and characteristics which help to create a strong Europe. We do not want to weaken this diversity through the homogenising project of supranational Europeanism, a project that seeks to emulate supranational Americanism. We want to retain our distinctive way of life, a way of life that feels more peaceful, more tolerant and more respectful.


    Way of life

    • Joe Zammit-Lucia says

      Thanks Stephen.

      You are right.

      Trouble is that we must resist the temptation to look at things only from one point of view.

      You are right that Remainers have become radicalized wishing now to overthrow the result of the referendum. Leavers have too. Before and after the referendum, Farage and others declared themselves ready to see the EEA/EFTA option as a viable post-Brexit state. Now they have become radicalized to a no deal outcome.

      And when you say “we” in your commentary above, it represents one perspective not a universal truth that everyone does or must agree with. Just like you argue for pluralism of nation states in the EU (something I happen to agree with), then we need to celebrate pluralism of views and perspectives within our own country rather than stooping to label all Leavers racist xenophobes and all Remainers intransigent undemocratic libertarians.

      Either we believe in pluralism or we don’t. It’s not yes to pluralism as long as my own perspective prevails.

      • Stephen Gwynne says

        Point taken. We denoted the millions of us that wish to preserve the British way of life. Not everybody.

        Yes I agree pluralism is a valued idea but pluralism exists within a framework, a society, a community and that framework is rarely expressed as pluralism but established norms, customs and traditions that characterise the history of that framework, society, community. Pluralism allows the exchange of ideas by which a framework can be modified but pluralism does not define the framework. The framework is defined as the legalistic and constitutional history of that framework and is a living memory of the occupants of that framework.

        So when I recite the British way of life, I refer to the framework. The pluralism of the British way of life and the EU way of life was a conflictual and incompatible relationship and one which though our democratic institutions was resolved.

        I do appreciate the concerns of remainers but they should not have taken centre stage. Even Chukka is still busy trying to resolve Brexit through a supranational lens. When will radicalised people like him get that it was the EU that was the problem.

        The fundamentally unsustainable EU framework of free trade and the free movement of people does not allow nations to retain their distinctive characteristics and erodes their ability to create national sustainability, sufficiency and resilience. Hence supranational free trade systems might be good for the welfare of big business but it deteriorates national security.

        Who wants to become another USA.

        Chukka claims to be a centrist when he is a dogmatic remainer. He is out on the extreme and is trying to redefine the centre around himself and his intransigent undemocratic libertarianism.

        However, I do apologise because I did have a very enlightening conversation with a remainer over the weekend and he was quick to distinguish himself from dogmatic remainers. I was only referring to dogmatic remainers, not yourself or other remainer democrats who quite rightly represent the need for a collaborative framework with the EU.

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