THE BLOG
02/03/2018 14:10 GMT | Updated 02/03/2018 14:10 GMT

There Are More Important Things Than Brexit

John Lamb via Getty Images

Britain chose to join the European Union by referendum and now it has chosen to leave. This is what it means to live in a democracy, the majority have the right to make the wrong decision.

Of course it is also true that we have the right to change our minds, and technically, we could have referendums every week, and keep changing our minds. However Jeremy Corbyn, and those of good sense in the Labour Party, are right to accept Brexit. Brexit is a constitutional decision. It is not just a change in policy - it is a fundamental, structural change to the UK political system.

Constitutional change is hard because it demands that the actors rebuild the stage while they act upon it. UK politicians often express pride in our unwritten constitution - the organic compromise between monarchy and democracy, the peculiar and uneven unity, of our four very different kingdoms, the strange alliance between independent civil servants, elected politicians and their chosen Prime Minister. But the cracks are all too obvious. The constitutional system that accidentally created, and then quickly lost, the British Empire seems wholly unfit to run a modern welfare state.

Brexit was caused, above all else, by the deterioration of social justice in the last 40 years. During this period, only the top 15% became richer, while everyone else became poorer. However Government policy has tried to disguise this fact by desperately shifting resources, from the rich and the poor, towards middle-income earners - the swing voters.

Simon Duffy
How the state has stolen from the poorest

This is the same period in which the UK has been part of the European family. But our decline, really a kind of moral decline, has not been caused by Europe. For we opted out of the European social provisions that would have reduced these problems (other European countries have not seen the same increases in inequality) and we have elected politicians who knowingly led attacks on the UK’s poorest citizens, on disabled people and on the institutions which protect us best, like the NHS.

We blame Europe, but these problems are of our own making.

And we show no sign of changing. Today politicians of the Left and Right continue to behave as if our relationship with Europe is the key to our future. Only a minority of our leaders, like Jeremy Corbyn, are trying to get us to focus on the real problem - our relationship with ourselves. The UK has become an abusive institution. Not only do the powerful abuse the weak, but the centre abuses the local, Westminster abuses its member countries, and civil society - newspapers, charities, the professions - has become increasingly compliant and complicit. For instance, we continue to ignore the fact that the United Nations criticism of our human rights records is not some zany nonsense, it is based on the fact the UK has abandoned its responsibility to protect the rights of the most vulnerable.

Obviously we need political change, but what we also need is deeper constitutional change. We need to become a true democracy, a place where all our voices count, not just the voice of the swing voter or those who can buy their influence. We need to respect our complex identities and our long histories, not just by devolving power to the UK’s four kingdoms, but also by strengthening our regional identities and our local communities. We need to return to the principles that inspired the Magna Carta and put human rights - particularly our economic, social and cultural rights - at the heart of the constitution.

It is for this reason that a broad alliance of organisations has come together to call for a Citizen Convention on Constitutional Reform. Already five political parties have expressed support for these ideas. In my personal opinion, the decision to leave the EU is a sad mistake, but I think we must accept this constitutional decision. Instead of living in grief or imagining that somehow Europe will ride to our rescue, we must address the deeper constitutional issues that created Brexit. We must rebuild a Britain that doesn’t just talk about fair play, but actually lives up to that ideal and plays fair.