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Stepping into the unknown

Submitted by on 29 Sep 2016 – 09:00

As Britain’s relationship with the European Union hangs in balance, The Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, argues that now is the time for the United Kingdom to stand up to discrimination of all kinds and expose the welcoming nature of the nation. Spelling out the known knowns and the known unknowns of Brexit, he writes that only decisive leadership, a steady nerve and shrewd diplomacy can ensure that Britain will emerge unified, as it steps into the unknown

In the aftermath of the European Union Referendum, many people have been wondering how Parliament will implement the will of the British people.

The only sure action is to invoke Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, but a vote to leave by a member state is unprecedented, therefore the rules for exit are brief and the strategy for such a move is unstipulated. What is guaranteed is that it will take a minimum of two and a half years before we know what the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the European Union will look like.

This is a time of great political, economic and social uncertainty. The country has a new Prime Minister, and it is now Mrs May’s job to lead us through the political storm.

The most pressing issue is the economy. The immediate market reaction was concerning. However, the Chancellor Philip Hammond and Mark Carney of the Bank of England have, in the short term, reassured the markets and the economy appears stabilised.

The Referendum has shown that the United Kingdom is a nation divided. Divided in its membership; with Scotland and Northern Ireland voting to Remain whilst England and Wales backing Leave. Split between generations, with the youth feeling robbed at a decision overwhelmingly supported by older generations and at odds along class lines, with many working class communities voting to Leave. Then, there is a North-South and a rural-urban divide. Division is also rife within the two main political parties.

A vile showing of racism and xenophobia that has seemingly been bubbling under the surface in many communities around the country has also been revealed. The perpetrators of these actions have been indiscriminate, targeting not just EU Citizens, but anybody that could be considered ‘foreign’. By fighting, and winning, a referendum on the premise of stemming migration, racist and xenophobic thoughts and actions have been given legitimacy.

I believe the liability for this lies with the Leave campaign. We now have an opportunity as a country, to stand up to discrimination of all kinds and show the rest of the world, that the United Kingdom is the open and welcoming country that I know it to be.

The new Prime Minister is responsible for delivering the wishes of the people and tackling the issue of European citizens remaining in the UK and British citizens living abroad. Migration is therefore the second key issue.

There are currently 1.2 million British citizens living in the European Union and 3 million European citizens living in the United Kingdom. The Government has repeatedly refused to confirm their status, and it is widely anticipated that this will not be made clear until after the negotiations have been completed. I cannot begin to imagine how worrying this must be.

The nation’s relationship with Europe now hangs in the balance. Planning beyond October 2018 is near impossible. As a nation we are taking a huge step into the unknown. It is only through decisive leadership, a steady nerve and shrewd diplomacy that we will emerge from this unscathed. I am sure that we are up to the challenge. In a real sense it’s “back to the people.”