It is staggering how much British politicians, private actors and public institutions were caught off guard by the EU referendum result. The lack of a clear Brexit plan became evident almost immediately after the result came in, and exasperated the degree to which the British economy suffered initially from a significant degree of financial uncertainty. In fact, in a rather revealing and frank interview, Iain Duncan Smith, a former leader of the Tory party, has revealed that Leave campaigners themselves did not have a comprehensive contingency plan in the case of a Brexit.
As a result, both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party found themselves in a deepening political crisis, with Conservative MPs divided along the battle lines of the Remain and Leave campaign, and Labour MPs rebelling against the party’s leadership and the ineffective party campaign to remain in the European Union.
These reactions are further proof that right versus left politics is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the face of globalization. The Conservatives have increasingly been using the discourse of working class protection, while many Labour MPs (in contrast to their leader and some of their most vocal members) identify with more liberal policies, such as free markets, labour movement and unrestricted trade.
Given the large economic backlash caused by the Brexit referendum, considerable public discontent and the threat of political pressure for further devolution or outright independence coming from Scotland, it is has become crucial that British politicians seek political consensus. It may be time to begin moving away from the increasingly irrelevant right-left divide in favour of the implementation of a wider political compromise – a well-crafted technocratic political body of specialists, focused on not only delivering on the promise of the Conservative government, but to account for the needs of both the British public and the business. Even though the newly elected PM Theresa May has essentially established such an institution in the form of the Brexit ministry, her measures have failed to address the need for wider political participation from the public. As such, as a first step towards a comprehensive Brexit planning, it is crucial to establish a new cross-party body that will take in account the views of both Leave and Remain campaigns, and will consists of both members of the government and the opposition. Moreover, a policy body of such a character should seek to encompass the views of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments in establishing a political compromise that will reestablish a sense of political unity and help the UK to get a better deal out of EU negotiations as a coherent and stable political actor.
While such an institution might not have any executive powers, it should be directly involved in the negotiation and policy-making process. Furthermore, it should seek to adopt a technocratic, rather than ideological approach, and as such provide significant expertise to government bodies, while encompassing views from members of the public and civil society groups as well. Such an institution can focus on identifying skilled and talented civil servants, and support them in spearheading international negotiations on bilateral or multilateral trade treaties. More importantly, however, a Brexit political body, founded on the principle of compromise and inclusion, will manage to enhance citizen participation in the process, while providing a sense of political stability that the UK is in desperate need of.
A key element of the institution must be a transparent and accountable character. The body should include expert members appointed by political party leaders as well as senior members of the civil service, and appointments should be approved by both houses of parliament. This will allow such a political body to be both efficient due to its technocratic approach, and accountable to the British voters at the same time.
While such an idea might seem far-fetched, the Brexit referendum has shown that it is time for policy-makers to adopt a more rational decision-making model, while focusing on planning for uncertainty, rather than clinging to old tribal political struggles. A wider political participation institution could serve to curb the rise of fringe movements, while providing a platform for moderation and political compromise. Establishing a cross-party advisory board, which can take a proactive approach in regards to foreign negotiations with both EU and non-EU states, can further serve to show the international community that Britain remains committed to the values of democratic participation and political stability.