On the morning of June 24, when it was clear Leave had won, the Stronger In team assembled and through our initial dissection of defeat reached three conclusions.
We were proud of fighting for Remain, we were devastated but the result would be accepted, and there would be a need for a pro-European voice in the debate that would ensue. Unofficially, this is where the idea for what is now Open Britain was conceived.
The argument over Britain’s future relationship with the EU shouldn’t be left to those who want to pull up the drawbridge, those who want to dismantle it altogether, or a government hoping to deliver a fait accompli on whatever “Brexit” means.
Remain campaigners must be part of the debate – but we can only do so if we learn lessons from defeat. We were neither positive nor empathetic enough on immigration. We failed to communicate the value of the Single Market. We defended a status quo which too many had already given up on.
Open Britain will make a positive argument about the value of partnership with Europe and the importance of immigration to our country.
We are building a grassroots network of likeminded activists campaigning for progressive causes, working with all pro-European groups. And we will aim to shape the debate over the UK’s future with the EU, arguing for a close relationship unique to Britain.
Open Britain is today releasing a first outline of what we believe the Government’s priorities should be going in to the negotiations. We should argue for a bespoke trade arrangement which offers membership of the Single Market; more influence over decision-making than is offered by existing arrangements for non-EU members, appropriate for an economy of our size; and to ‘mend not end’ free movement, with greater fairness in the system.
We call for unprecedented co-operation over security, genuine guarantees over protecting planned levels of EU investment, and to preserve workers’ rights and environmental protections that have their basis in EU law.
This wouldn’t be a ‘soft’ exit but rather what we consider hard logic about what’s in our interests. In or out of the EU Europe will be central to our economy, national security and ability to tackle climate change, and the closer our co-operation the greater our power, prosperity and protection.
It is ambitious – but surely that is the right starting point in any negotiation. If some say it’s unachievable, we would say let’s test the logic. Long and complex negotiations haven’t yet begun, so it’s right to set bold principles we want to achieve.
Anything less would both be falling short of what we were repeatedly told would be possible by Leave campaigners and what we consider necessary to minimise the costs of leaving and maximising any new opportunities that exist.
The referendum result and campaign exposed divisions that must now be confronted. As a starting point, we hope many will unite around the principle of defending an open economy and society, which is what we begin to outline today.
Joe Carberry is the co-Executive Director of Open Britain