It has been three years since the referendum on Britain leaving the European Union, and they have not been happy ones – whatever one’s views as to the issue itself. The central lessons of the past three years have been to show how difficult the UK’s relationship with Europe is for British politics and the British people, and that having a referendum is no magic solution to those difficulties. Indeed the referendum, by sharpening divisions, has made matters worse. Far from bringing people together, it has sadly increased the tensions in society.
For both major parties, it has been a period of anguish, though the difficulties have inevitably been more evident on the Tory side. It was one Conservative prime minister that called the referendum, another that failed to implement its narrowly determined result, and now a third Tory PM will have to make a further effort to find some sort of proposal that is acceptable to Europe and on which parliament can agree. While it is tempting to see this in party political terms – and in the arithmetic of votes in the House of Commons – party politics are a poor prism through which to view the national discord. The elections for the European parliament, with the humiliation of both major parties, were a testimony to that.
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