Project Reality, Not Project Fear - And Now We Must Pick Up the Pieces

The 23 June was not independence day for Britain - it was the day the UK shot itself in its foot. Brexit will hugely damage our economy, our businesses, our citizens, our stability and our standing in the world... In the words of the Leave campaign, it is time for this country to "take back control" from the disastrous mess they have created.
altamira83 via Getty Images

The 23 June was not independence day for Britain - it was the day the UK shot itself in its foot. Brexit will hugely damage our economy, our businesses, our citizens, our stability and our standing in the world.

While European economies have been stagnating, we have seen a cumulative growth of 62% since the single market started in 1993.

We have taken for granted that 1.2million of our citizens are living in the EU, and we have three million EU citizens living here. They must be permitted to stay in the UK; these are people who have put in five times more than they took out and contributed hugely to our economy?

We must take stock to examine what has happened, and how we must now move forward.

We have 500,000 international students in this country and 170,000 of them are from the European Union. We need to send out a message that they will always be welcome here.

Already, we as a country have lost our AAA rating and now eight of our universities have lost their credit ratings. Our universities receive £1billion from the EU in research funding, and will now suffer.

Looking at the finance sector - big banks have already begun to make plans to move staff out. Stocks in the Royal Bank of Scotland have lost £8billion in share value. That is more than the UK puts into the EU every year, and it is taxpayers' money!

The Vote Leave campaign misled the British public. The biggest lie was "We send the EU £350 million a week" emblazoned on the Brexit bus, along with: "Let's fund our NHS instead".

This was completely misleading, as the net contribution of the UK to the EU according to IFS figures is £8 billion a year, 1 per cent of our annual government expenditure of £770million per year. That is not going to shift the needle, let alone save the NHS.

The IFS has in fact projected that leaving the EU would cause a hit to public finances of between £20billion and £40billion between 2019-20.

I question what the Electoral Commission was doing. I have met people who have said: "I voted to leave to save the NHS". We need to take a careful look at the commission, which frankly, was asleep on the job.

We now have a situation where 72% of voters under 25 voted to remain in the EU, but just over one-third of them turned out to vote. I hope that Britain's younger generations have learnt a painful lesson that they must all always exercise their precious right to vote for their futures.

This country has come a long way since the 1980s when I came to this country as a student from India, when there existed a glass ceiling for foreigners, and the UK was the sick man of Europe. Today anyone can get anywhere, regardless of race, religion and background.

Yet today we hear of these awful hate crimes, attacks against migrants and discrimination, which I have experienced myself. Do we want to wind the clock back?

Great cracks are now appearing in our union as both Scotland and Northern Ireland, having voted to remain, begin to consider a future apart from the UK and within the EU.

Is it not a gut-wrenching sight to see Nigel Farage, who was so responsible for creating the mess that we are in, resigning as leader of Ukip and this weekend wearing Union Jack shoes when he could be responsible for breaking up our union?

People who voted to leave were putting their trust in people who have been stabbing each other in the back - Boris stabbing the Prime Minister, Andrea Leadsom stabbing Boris, Gove stabbing Boris and Nigel leaving within days!

What a disaster, these pied pipers of Hamelin have conned, deceived and misled people.

Ironically, the chief Brexiteer publication, The Sun - 'wot won it' - published a poll just this weekend showing that 67% believed the priority of the new Prime Minister should be steadying the economy, while only 28% of them want tackling immigration to be a priority. Our country is crying out for stability.

Yet the UK is now facing great uncertainty, a weaker currency, looser monetary policy and lower growth. Our airport expansion has been delayed. The Governor of the Bank of England is already talking of economic post-traumatic stress disorder. The Economist Intelligence Unit projects a 6% contraction in the economy by 2020.

Was the campaign to remain in the EU really Project Fear? It was Project Reality. So how can we find the best path forward?

There is now a strong legal case that Article 50 cannot be triggered until Parliament votes on it.

With such a narrow outcome of 52:48, and considering the lies, the deceit, the treachery and the turmoil that has been caused, the question must be raised whether a responsible Parliament can affirm the referendum result built on such shaky ground.

Hindsight suggests that a decision as important as this should have had a two-thirds hurdle. For example, to change the fixed term parliament rule, the commons needs a two thirds majority, and to change the Indian constitution, you need a two-thirds majority, to provide a definitive result.

A petition for holding a second referendum has now been signed by four million people. There is no legal obstacle to holding a second referendum, and a general election could even be treated as a proxy second referendum on this issue.

A recent Market & Opinion Research International poll shows that 48% of voters agree that there should be a general election before Britain begins formal Brexit negotiations.

In the midst of political in-fighting and backstabbing we currently lack strong leadership, which is exactly what this country now needs the most. We need to negotiate with the European Union before getting anywhere near Article 50.

Then - whether the decision is for staying in the European Economic Area with restricted movement of people, or staying in the EU with restricted movement of people - we can go to the nation through a general election, properly supervised by an effective Electoral Commission. We need to give people the chance to make an informed decision about our children's and our grandchildren's future, with young people turning out in full force.

In the words of the Leave campaign, it is time for this country to "take back control" from the disastrous mess they have created.

Lord Bilimoria is Founder and Chairman of Cobra Beer, cross bench peer, Chancellor of the University of Birmingham and Founding Chairman of the UK-India Business Council.

Before You Go