What Next for Pro-Europeans?

14/07/2016 13:11 | Updated 14 July 2016

Three weeks on from the biggest political event of our lifetimes, it seems the UK has not recovered any sense of normality. The economy is crashing. Racist attacks are up. Communities remain divided and national dialogue is still conducted in a tone of dishonesty and vindictiveness. Leadership has been either absent or insufficiently commanding. The only thing of which we can be certain is dramatic and total uncertainty itself.

As a result, it seems entirely possible that a significant number of those who voted for the UK to leave the EU have now changed their minds. Polls certainly suggest this. However, as the lead up to the last two national votes has demonstrated, polls are also often misleading, and there is only one way to tell for sure how people feel, and that's to count up the ballot papers after an election and declare a result according to the rules that were established in advance.

For this reason, the result of the referendum must be respected. Calls to simply rerun the vote again in the hope of a different result risk alienating the very people whom we are told used their vote to express a more general disenfranchisement from politics, society and the world as a whole. However warped we believe the arguments were in favour of isolation, how palpably false their predictions for life after a 'no' vote have already turned out to be and, in fact, how nonsensical it was to hold a vote asking people to chose between a certain, definite and tangible form of government (however imperfect) and an abstract, unintelligible promise of something somehow better, rerunning the vote now would get us no closer to settling this matter nor helping the UK to escape the spiral of economic crisis, division and violence that the result sent us down. This government, which both promised the referendum and then lost it, must now take responsibility and try to negotiate a deal that best serves its electorate, and it must do so soon.

But that shouldn't mean that this argument is over, nor that the role of Remain campaigners is now redundant. The events of the next two years are entirely unclear, and we must press on with making the argument over why EU membership is in all our interests. The last thing we can afford to do now is merely resign ourselves to the fate of cutting ourselves off from the unmatchable levels of trade, dialogue and cooperation with our neighbours that the EU enables. This vote does not mean that climate change, terrorism nor the globalisation of the economy have gone away, nor the need to work with other Europeans to deal with their consequences. The UK will need the EU just as much when negotiations are completed as when they eventually begin. And whenever a proposed deal is finalised, we need to have been consistently making the point that the EU as it already exists is a tremendous benefit to everyone on these islands - arguments that are likely to have been intensely reinforced by the political and economic fortunes of the UK during that period.

This means that, as well as maintaining a passion for Europe and the benefits and freedoms we enjoy as a result of the EU, the campaign must also focus on obtaining a democratic say on the deal when negotiations are finished. Even a fortnight after the vote, no one knows what Brexit amounts to in any detail whatsoever. Once those details are established, the UK - or whatever remains of it - must be allowed to democratically endorse what the government has secured -or indeed to reject it in favour of what we have already built.

In Bristol, which we are proud to say voted overwhelmingly to remain, we intend to maintain the pressure for as long as necessary. Europe will now dominate political and social debate for years, and we intend to remind the government - and our allies in the rest of the continent and beyond - that a large proportion of the population never wanted to leave, and that we are determined to continue a dialogue with those who voted differently (and those who didn't vote at all) until the matter is settled.

Despite the horrors that will now descend on so many in the UK, this is not a time for I told you sos, nor for insulting anyone merely as racists or fools. That such people did indeed feel a sense of victory on the morning of 24 June does not mean that everyone who agrees with them on this one issue, however colossal it is, should be dismissed as being as bad. Together, we made a terrible mistake with the referendum, but that wasn't just the fault of the Brexit campaign. Their arguments were 20 years in the making, whereas we pro-Europeans, either through arrogance or naivety, didn't set out our case until the final few months of the campaign, and even then largely did so in a way that was defensive, negative and viewed as suspiciously histrionic (if not it turns out, inaccurate). We must now take responsibility to bridge the divide between us all through conversation and respect. We must let the government enter their negotiations with the Union's other members. And we must keep making the case for both a democratic and free Europe - and of the necessity of a public vote on the terms of whatever exit deal is produced.

This article was co-authored by Sam Hickmott, another member of the pro-European movement in Bristol.