As the decision by the British people to leave the EU was announced last Friday morning everything changed yet nothing changed. How Britain will leave the EU, the laws that will be needed and whether our country will even remain a United Kingdom are all unknown and will take years to be worked through. But the issues that make a difference to the lives of each and every one of us – housing, jobs, education, the NHS, pensions were still there and the challenges they involve haven’t gone away.
Most Londoners, myself included, voted “Remain” but when the votes of the rest of England were counted we found ourselves in a minority. We may feel that that the campaign generated much more heat than light, we may also feel that the case for remaining wasn’t expressed in clear enough terms to counter the distortions and emotional appeals of the “Leave” campaign but we have to accept the democratic decision.
London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan responded by saying “We all have a responsibility to now seek to heal the divisions that have emerged throughout this campaign – and to focus on that which unites us, rather than that which divides us.” And I am sure that here in Lewisham and across London we will set aside our disappointments and anxieties and strive to do exactly that.
One of the arguments put forward for voting “Leave” was that “we will take back control and can spend our money on our priorities”. As the way our country goes through an extended period of change we must not lose sight of that and our cities and regions should say to whatever government is in control at Westminster that they too want to take back control and spend their money on their priorities.
This must become a time for real devolution – not just a few crumbs from the Westminster table but the handing over to those cities and regions the powers to make decisions on everything except those matters which self evidently must be dealt with at national level. There will be a huge programme of legislation required to disentangle Britain from the EU and that legislation can also be used to pass powers on.
Those parts of the country that embraced “Leave” so enthusiastically will have very different priorities to London and all I ask is that London be allowed to go on doing the things that have made it so successful – being open to do business with the world and to welcome the world’s brightest and best to the city, and being a city where respect and tolerance of difference is something we celebrate not fear.
We have serious issues we need to address not least the London Housing crisis and as we go forward we must demand that we are given the freedom to use the resources this city generates to resolve those problems without interference from Brussels or Westminster.
An edited version of this piece was published in the South London Press on the 1st July 2016.