The EU Referendum result

5th July 2016

Thursday 23rd June 2016 will stand as a momentous day in British history, politics and society. After Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron did what no previous Prime Minister has done and gave the British people a say on our membership of the EU, the British people voted to leave.

This is a profound moment in our national history, which changes so much it has triggered a political earthquake on a par with 1832, 1911 and 1947. We have entered one of the most volatile political periods since the war as all the political parties seek to come to terms and adjust to the result and the implications. A recently elected and popular Prime Minister has had to resign, Scotland is threatening to leave the United Kingdom, and all mainstream political parties are in chaos. The elation of the initial result has quickly faded. Much of the country is dazed, surprised, confused and in many areas concerned.

This is not a time for triumphalism, or recriminations or political point-scoring. It’s a time for all politicians to put the country first and do what's right for the people we serve. We need cool heads and calm decision making, working together for the national good.

That’s why my initial focus is clear: working with all my constituents, whichever way they voted, to protect jobs and investment in our area, and in the £6 billion Life Science sector for which I am responsible as Minister. That's why I've moved fast to shore up and restore investment confidence in the Life Science sector, convening a Brexit 'Cabinet' Task Force of leaders to oversee the negotiation of our new relationship with the EU in a series of urgent work streams.

Let's be clear. Brexit means Brexit.

The reason I campaigned for Remain was simple. Norfolk and the wider Eastern region currently leads Europe and the world in the area of science and innovation supporting thousands of jobs across our region. The vote to leave the EU has major implications for the Norwich Research Park, the Common Agricultural Policy, agri-tech and our wider business sector across all our market towns and villages. The majority of businesses were consistently for Remain. As a Business Minister committed to bringing business investment to our part of Norfolk, and concerned that the economic cost would outweigh the benefits, I supported Remain.

But, above all, I am a democrat. I believe that the people - not MPs, nor the executive - are sovereign. That’s why I campaigned for the Referendum and ran a comprehensive EU: In or Out? series of debates across Mid-Norfolk, starting in September, bringing leading Leave campaigners to our area so that everyone’s voice could be heard.

Personally, I was very sad to see the Prime Minister resign, recently re-elected with the first Conservative majority for over two decades. But we can be in no doubt: last Thursday’s result was a political earthquake. We have seen nothing like this before. As we are current witnessing with the Labour party, the old political rules no longer apply and now the leader of UKIP has stepped down.

The people have spoken and, as the PM made clear in his very powerful resignation speech, we must all respect that decision. The Referendum is binding. We all fought it on that basis, and we must now act accordingly.

As we do so, however, I think it is also important that we also reflect on the state of our national politics. The EU Referendum campaign was too often politics at its worst. Having founded the MindTheGap! and PositivePolitics! Movements before coming to Parliament, I remain more determined than ever to continue my work to rebuild trust in the political process from the grassroots up.

The key now is uniting to make Brexit work for the good of the whole country: keeping the United Kingdom strong and ensuring that both the 48% and 52% can see that we are making this work for us all.

The task before us all is leadership. We must not allow a political or economic vacuum to form, with a lack of leadership contributing to the volatility and undermining economic confidence, and businesses continuing to delay decisions because of uncertainty. Having spent the last six years working to get our economy back on track, we need to work to make sure that work is not undone. That’s why I am glad that we will have a new Prime Minister in place by September 9th, and can form a new Government that will set out a strong, honest, ambitious vision for the future of the United Kingdom.

Together - in Norfolk, the wider Eastern region and, indeed, the country - it is our duty to chart a better future for Britain. Whichever way we voted on the 23rd that must now be the aim of us all. By coming together as a Party and a Government and a Country we can make sure this great country continues to lead the way - in Europe and the wider world - to a more enterprising, competitive, productive and inspiring economy, society and politics in the 21stC. 

As I have set out in my recent speeches and articles we have to both implement the Brexit vote in negotiating a new relationship with Europe that works for our economy and society, but I believe we also have to listen and hear and act on the very strong message coming through in the EU Referendum campaign and vote about public disillusionment with our politics, economy and society in the UK, which Brexit will not solve. We all ignore that at our peril.

By working together I believe we can make this a turning point for our country, economy and politics. We need to.


George Freeman  

Big Tent Ideas Festival

Politics is undergoing a tectonic shift. That’s why this year I launched the first-ever Big Tent Ideas Festival, aiming to tackle the most difficult policy challenges we face. Bringing together over a hundred thinkers across the political spectrum, we discussed new ideas on everything from Brexit to intergenerational fairness, centred around three main themes: Politics, Society and Economy.

The Big Tent Ideas Festival is part of the new Capital Ideas Foundation, and will be setting off round the country over the next twelve months as the forum for the best new ideas in public policy. Click below and join us.

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