The British vote to leave the EU has ended decades of ambiguity in our relationship with Europe. Although, in the immediate aftermath of the result, it is easy to see only challenges and uncertainty ahead, the decision will in fact bring many opportunities and much clarity for both the UK and EU partners.
I have always argued that the British people should take a decision to be fully committed to the EU and political union or else pursue a national course, outside the EU. The referendum has demonstrated again that the British people are - understandably given our history and role in the world - unable to commit to the necessary political integration required to make the EU a success. It is better to accept this than fudge it. It was in fact more important that a decision was taken than the decision itself. The question about the future of the UK and its role in Europe and the world that has dogged British politics, on both left and right, ever since we joined the Community in 1973, has finally been answered. The Government will implement the instructions of the electorate to find a new role for a self-governing UK. This will be a difficult and painful process of readjustment and it requires calm, steady and accommodating leadership to heal the divisions that have opened within Britain, but which need not be opened between Britain and its friends and allies abroad. The process can be amicable if it is founded on a reinforcement of the shared interests and liberal internationalist values of the UK, the remaining EU and indeed the western world.
Instead of standing in the way of ever closer union among the peoples, and in fact the institutions, of the EU, the UK will now unblock progress towards more complete political, fiscal and economic union. The EU should now seize this opportunity to shape its future unencumbered by British reluctance and freed of the British veto. Rather than having the UK turn up at a golf club ready to play tennis, the EU will be able to develop a coherent set of rules fit for securing the future of the Euro. I expect the UK to be a supportive friend in this, committed to continued membership of the Council of Europe and to being an important member of NATO contributing to the defence of Europe, not least in the Baltic States and Poland.
As Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I expect my Committee to play its part in scrutinising Government policy and advising the Government on the path it should follow. Far from becoming an isolationist country withdrawing from the world, I am confident that Britain will become more open and engaged with the world. Withdrawal from the EU does not mean withdrawal from Europe or the world. We remain a European country with shared values, overlapping interests and a common history from which our democracies and civilisation emerged. We remain members of NATO, committed to meeting the NATO target of spending 2% of GDP on defence and 0.7% on international development assistance. We remain a permanent member of the UN Security Council, members of the G20, G7 and the OSCE. In all of these organisations we will continue to work with the EU and EU member states to address the European security challenges we all face, on migration, terrorism, Syria and the Middle East, and on Russian sanctions. In fact, although the precise relationship will be a matter for negotiation, it is not inconceivable that the UK might retain a role in the intergovernmental Common Foreign and Security Policy so that policy can be coordinated and the UK can continue to contribute to EU missions.
Isolationism will not serve the UK's economic interests either. The Foreign Affairs Committee has already recommended that, in the event of Brexit, the UK Government should seek a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU. The UK should still be open for workers (albeit with work permits), students and tourists. We will still be open for research collaborations and investment.
Once a settlement has been found outside the EU, the UK will be at ease with itself and its future as an independent western liberal democracy. We are ready to remain close allies of all the members and prospective members of the EU, as partners bound by ties of trade, culture and friendship. In pursuing this new course for the UK, I believe we will resolve to strengthen the defence of our common interests in defeating Islamic extremism and terrorism, maintaining European security, promoting human rights, and upholding the rules based international system.
Crispin Blunt is the Conservative MP for Reigate, and chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee
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