The night before the EU referendum vote, a Major General from the British Army said, “This country desperately needs a clear vision of what it is going to be, and it needs strong leadership to enable it to get there.” How true those words have proven to be!

The referendum divided the nation and ignited passions on both sides.  Both sides believed they were correct.  Both sides used every technique possible including lying, exaggeration, and bogus statistics to put across their case – something so complex that neither could honestly prove their case. Both sides vowed to support the final decision.  

The day after the result, we needed our elected politicians, elected to serve the country as a whole, to come together to face the biggest challenge of most of their careers. Cross-bench collaboration was, and remains, essential.

What did we get?  Those who lost and who had so vociferously promoted the value of democracy immediately branded the winners old, uneducated, foolish and misguided.  Those who won, gloated, laughed at those who lost, and pretended that this was an easy task.

Just when we needed a clear and inspiring vision for the country, the very Prime Minister who had vowed to implement the decision, resigned.  Why?  Because he knew that the Civil Service had been advised not to prepare a contingency plan for a “Leave” vote; that there was no clear vision; that there was no plan for execution.

Even prior to the referendum, the UK was in democratic crisis:

  • The public at large were frustrated by the failings of the EU.
  • Many were frustrated by Westminster. Nearly 13% voted for UKIP to get only 1 parliamentary seat.  Yet less than 5% voted SNP and were rewarded with 56 seats.
  • Workers across the land had lost their jobs, their children couldn’t get preferred school places, their older children couldn’t get houses, their benefits were cut, they waited weeks for doctor appointments.

What did our politicians produce?  18 months of playground petulance; has-beens scuttling out of the woodwork like cockroaches; and those with massive vested interests fighting a media war with bogus statistics.  

The politicians repeatedly state that uncertainty should be avoided.  And, yet, they are the very ones who have fuelled the uncertainty.  Unfortunately, the Major General was correct, we needed a clear and positive vision and we needed clear leadership to achieve it … and we still do.

A few weeks ago, I would have said, “Those of you who won, stop gloating – get on with creating the Global Britain that you assured us we could have; don’t delay; don’t be pushed around.  This really is not about getting us OUT of the EU; it is about building a better Britain.  Do it.  And for those of you who lost, get over it.  This is a democracy and the people voted.  If you had won, you would probably be gloating too.  Grow up; do your job; work across the aisle and get the best for Britain.”  As they all seem incapable of meeting those needs for vision and leadership, I share some suggestions.

First, a vision. I see a vision of a Britain Global Engagement, building on our position as the 5th largest trading nation in the world:

  • global because it sees and treats the 190+ other counties in the world all as trading partners;   
  • global because it has integrated government bodies driving us forward in areas of our specialist expertise such as innovation, engineering, knowledge management, financial services, …
  • global because we bring in, welcome, and integrate the very best talent that we need from wherever they are in the world;  
  • global because we play an appropriate role in global issues such as securing peace via NATO; international intelligence to fight terrorism and cybercrime; CO2 control to fight climate change;  
  • global because we lead in addressing human rights – not by merely through wasteful aid thrown at reducing symptoms, but by focusing resources and collaboration on solving core problems;
  • global because we collaborate with countries who want to work with and trade with us;
  • global because we have a parliament with a 21st century mindset that works by collaborating and exploiting the talent it has for the good of the people, rather than using it as stage for individual self-aggrandisement.   

That is not about exiting Europe; it is about engaging globally, including within Europe.

Second, leadership.  We need someone to lead us now to:

  • Take control, calm the nervous and inspire those who want to make this work, and reframe the entire conversation.  Forget the negative label, “Brexit.” This is about “British Global Engagement” or BGE;
  • Create a new leadership team to manage the negotiations about our cessation of membership.  This needs to be a cross-party team with significant representation from politics and British industry.  It needs to be diverse, courageous and talented, especially in the fields of international negotiations.  It must reflect all voters, not merely those who voted to leave.  The action required is to leave but the outcome needs to be the best possible for the country, not merely for the 52%;   
  • Create a Global British-Trade team to develop a set of principles to underpin and promote future international trade negotiations e.g., if companies or individuals invest in the UK; what are the rules for paying tax; what are the rules for moving money overseas; what are the rules for bringing in talent; what are the rules for outsourcing operations overseas; ….
  • and reset the current negotiations!

In part 2, let’s look at some causes of the failings of the current negotiations.