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Politicians nurse their Brexit wounds

01 July 2016


Resigned: David Cameron announces that he is standing down as Prime Minister

Resigned: David Cameron announces that he is standing down as Prime Minister

THE POLITICAL fallout from the Brexit vote in the EU referendum was immediate. Both the main parties are preparing for leadership elections.

The Prime Minister’s resignation, he said, was submitted so that some other captain could steer Britain out of the EU. Theresa May is now considered to be the likeliest winner of a Conservative leadership election, after Boris Johnson said he was not the man to unify the party. She faces competition from Michael Gove — whose last-minute candidacy is said to have prompted Mr Johnson's withdrawal — Liam Fox, Andrea Leadsom and Stephen Crabb, who began his political career as an intern for Christian Action Research and Education.

Jeremy Corbyn was accused of fighting a half-hearted Remain campaign, and subjected by the Parliamentary Labour Party to a vote of no confidence. He lost, but will stand again in the hope that he is still supported by the rank-and-file Labour members who elected him ten months ago. 

The party in-fighting left a vacuum at the top of British politics, with prominent Leave campaigners suggesting that it was not yet time to implement any plan. Article 50 — the part of the Treaty on European Union that allows a member state to notify the EU of its withdrawal, and obliges the EU to negotiate a withdrawal agreement with that state — has not yet been triggered, and all parties have called for a period of calm reflection before it is invoked.

From the point that Article 50 is invoked, there is a maximum of two years for negotiation, after which EU treaties will cease to apply to the UK. If negotiations progress more quickly than expected, the UK could be out of the EU before the end of the two-year period.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, has said that his party will campaign to halt Brexit in the next election (odds on one taking place this year have been cut to 11/10). The First Minister for Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, has argued that Scotland should not be forced to leave the EU, even if that meant calling a second referendum on independence.

European leaders were disappointed with the referendum result. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said that Britain’s decision to go it alone had caused her “great regret”. The French president, François Hollande, said he “profoundly regretted” the Brexit vote. But the President of the European parliament, Martin Schulz, said that the process of leaving needed to start quickly, to prevent uncertainty damaging the EU. He told The Guardian that lawyers were studying whether it was possible to speed up Article 50.

Financial markets reacted badly to events, and the pound hit a 30-year low.

Christian politicians on all sides called for a period of healing after such a divisive campaign. “There should be no pitting of urban Britain against suburban Britain, no young people against older people, no London against the rest of England,” the chairman of Christians on the Left, Jonathan Reynolds MP, said. “We made this decision together. If you would have respected the result if your side had won, you must respect it if your side lost.”

The executive director of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, Gareth Wallace, issued a call for humility. “What must be clear is that the people have spoken. This result spoke from the heart of many who feel excluded from the political process and ignored by the so-called elites in business and statecraft. Only a humble, grassroots politics rooted in our local communities, which refuses to judge or patronise on the grounds of age, wealth, or education, will be acceptable.” 

The leader of the EU group Christians for Europe, a Dean Emeritus of Durham, Michael Sadgrove, said he was “heartbroken” and it was a “terrible day for Britain”.

Christian MPs who had campaigned on particular sides had unsurprisingly stark reactions. Sir Gerald Howarth, the Conservative MP for Aldershot, said he was “absolutely ecstatic” about the result, calling it a “great moment for our country”.

But the Labour MP for York Central, Rachael Maskell, warned Britain’s influence around the world would now be limited. She said the UK would be “engaging in political dialogue sitting at the table, but if we’re not going to be there, we need to make sure we find the mechanism for our defence and security, for our international dialogue and obviously to safeguard the future of our economy.”

Disappointment has been more prominent in Scotland, which voted firmly to Remain. But the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davison, a much-applauded voice in the campaign, and who spoke movingly about her faith journey after her election in 2011, resisted calls for a new independence referendum.

She wanted to see “stability prioritised” in the wake of the Brexit vote, she said. “But I do not believe that a second independence referendum will help us achieve that stability. . . We do not address the challenges of leaving the European Union by leaving our own union of nations, our biggest market and our closest friends.”

She summed up by echoing the sentiment expressed by most politicians: “All of us, and both our governments need to work together for the common good, and in the awareness that families and businesses today are fearful for the future, and need reassurance. That requires a calm, measured response to the challenges we face, and a commitment to put our separate political priorities to one side to enable discussion and co-operation.”

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