The British constitution is built on compromise and moderation; it’s one of the main reasons why this country enjoyed a period of relative domination in the 19th century while our neighbours tore themselves apart.
Referendums do not encourage compromise, which makes them such bitter devices, and why the last few weeks have been so painful. But now that the British people have made their choice – and I have no idea if it was the right one – we have the opportunity to make a compromise that will cause the least amount of pain.
I’m talking about the Norway option, which an increasing number of Conservative MPs are coming around to. This is a half-way house between membership of the EU and separation. We still need to abide by some regulations, and we still have to contribute, but in turn we still get access to the free market. That is the crucial element, and without which our economic prospects look incredibly bleak.
But the Tory party needs to get behind a plausible leader NOW who can reassure the markets that we will do everything possible to stay inside the single market. We also need the party to start rebuilding bridges with our European neighbours, including taking out adverts in continental newspapers stating that this was not a vote against Europe, and that we will continue to be the best of friends, neighbours and trading partners. They need someone to state and re-state that Europeans here will have the right to settle, and are welcome.
We are approaching something of an ugly culture war, something not seen since the reformation; England came to a compromise that time with Anglicanism, a church that was neither entirely Protestant nor Catholic. The EEA is the perfect fudgy Anglican solution to Britain’s place in Europe – it means younger people still get free movement, while things like fishing are returned to national control. Britain never had any appetite for the full political union promised by the European project, and the EEA option reflects this.
Those angry Remainers who shout they want their country to reflect their own ideals (it’s strange how for Brexiteers it’s always ‘We want our country back’, while for remainers it’s ‘I want my country back’) they’ll have to learn a lesson that a country is something shared with people of different values with whom one must compromise.
For the angry Brexiteers the message will have to be reiterated that this is not a vote against foreigners, and in no way is it a carte blanche to act on your worst instincts. There will no doubt be great bitterness for the one-third of Leavers who voted on the grounds of immigration, and much blame must be placed with the Vote Leave campaign, which made promises on immigration I believe we cannot deliver without wrecking the economy. Overall I wasn’t impressed with the way they won their vote, but if their leaders now fail to own Brexit, and cause a recession that will cost people their jobs, I warn them that they will be the most hated people in modern British history. As John Hume once said, you can’t eat a flag.