I want to begin this morning by paying tribute to David Cameron who has spoken earlier from Downing Street. I know I speak for Michael in saying how sad I am that he has decided to step down but obviously I respect that decision. I have known David Cameron for a very long time and I believe he has been one of the most extraordinary politicians of our age. A brave and principled man who has given superb leadership of party and his country for many years. Reforming our public services, delivering one nation Conservative government, making this country the most dynamic economy in Europe and with his own brand of compassionate Conservatism that rightly earned his party the first majority government for decades.
It was his bravery that gave this country the first referendum on the European Union for 43 years, the first time that many of us have had the chance to vote explicitly on this question.
Today I think all of us politicians should thank the British people, because in a way they have been doing our job for us. They hire us to deal with the hard questions and this year we gave them one of the biggest and toughest questions of all.
Some people are now saying, that was wrong, and the people should never have been asked in this way. I disagree. I believe it was entirely right and inevitable, and indeed that there is no way to deal with a decision of this scale unless you put it to the people.
Because in the end this question is about the people, it’s about the right of the people of this country to settle their own destiny. This referendum is about people the principles of democracy. The rights of all of us to elect and remove the people who make the key decisions in their lives.
And I think the electorate have searched in their hearts and answered as honestly as they can, and as Gisela says, on a poll on the scale of which we’ve never seen before in this country. They have decided that it is time to vote to take back control, from a European Union that has become too remote, too opaque and not accountable enough to the people it is meant to serve.
In voting to leave the EU it is vital to stress that there is no no need for haste, and indeed as the Prime Minister has just said, nothing will change over the short term except that work will have to begin on how to give effect to the will of the people and how to extricate this country from the supranational system. And as the Prime Minister has rightly said, there is no need to invoke Article 50. ANd to those who may be anxious —whether at home or abroad—this does not mean the United Kingdom will be less united. Nor indeed does it mean that it will be any less European. And I want to speak to the millions of people who did not vote for this outcome, especially young people, who may feel that this decision in some way involves pulling up a drawbridge or any kind of isolationism. Because I think the very opposite is true.
We cannot turn our backs on Europe. We are part of Europe. Our children and our grandchildren will continue to have a wonderful future as Europeans, travelling to the continent, understanding the languages and cultures that make up our common European civilization. Continuing to interact with the peoples of other countries in a way that is open and friendly and outward looking.
And I want to reassure everybody that in my view as a result of this Britain will continue to be a great European power, leading discussions on foreign policy and defence and intelligence sharing and all the work that currently goes on to make our world safer.
But there is simply no need, in the 21st century, to be part of a federal system of government based in Brussels that is imitated nowhere else on earth. It was a noble idea for its time; it is no longer right for this country. And it is the essence of our case that young people in this country can look forward to a more secure and more prosperous future if we take back the democratic control that is the foundation of our economic prosperity.
I believe we now have a glorious opportunity. We can pass our laws and set our taxes entirely according to the needs of the UK economy. We can control our borders in a way that is not discriminatory but is fair and balanced. And take the wind out of the sails of the extremists and those who would play politics with immigration.
Above all, we can find our voice in the world again. A voice that is commensurate with the fifth-biggest economy on earth. Powerful, liberal, humane, an extraordinary force for good in the world.
And the most precious thing this country has given our continent is the idea of parliamentary democracy. This Thursday, yesterday, I believe the British people have spoken up for democracy, in Britain and across Europe. And I believe we can be very proud of the result.
Thank you, finally, to everybody at Vote Leave for the extraordinary and positive campaign you have run. Thank you.
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