Whether it's Brexit or Bremain, Reckless Cameron Should Resign

David Cameron should resign as Prime Minister after the EU referendum - regardless of the outcome. It was politically inept of him to call the referendum in the first place and the resulting campaign has dangerously exacerbated divisions in British society. It will take a major effort by all of us to piece things back together again.

Mr Cameron recklessly risked the country’s future by pursuing an EU referendum to tackle a parochial Conservative Party management problem. Not for the first time, he paid insufficient attention to the bigger picture and appears to be relying on his innate sense of good fortune to get him out of trouble. It is this political dilettantism that makes him unsuitable to lead.

The Prime Minister has failed even to achieve his narrow aim in calling the referendum. His Party is now more divided and unmanageable than it was before the EU campaign. The greater tragedy is that his actions have led to the Tory split being replicated in the country as a whole.

As is normal in a democracy, there were different views about the EU, immigration, economy and so on before the referendum. But a rancorous campaign has inflamed these differences in ways that will be very difficult to reconcile whatever the result. The coming years will now see Britain having to rebuild its relationship with its neighbours whilst simultaneously repairing a country that has been riven with anger and distrust.

The heightened tensions over the economy and national security will now need to be alleviated amidst a situation (particularly if “Leave” wins) in which significant new challenges in those areas have to be faced.

But the most incendiary issues of all are the ones of migration and identity that have been particularly inflamed by the referendum campaign.

As I see it, there are two distinct camps on migration and identity issues. One incorporates the racists, xenophobes and extremist bigots of all types. Their views have historically caused nothing but carnage in the world and continue to do so.  Such opinions should be challenged firmly at every turn, including with the full force of the law when they descend into violence or the incitement of it.

On the edge of this camp, Nigel Farage has in his better moments shown political skill in articulating fears that were previously not getting a sufficient hearing. But the poster of refugees he launched this week crossed over into overt racism. Mr Farage has too often flirted with this disease and degraded our national debate as a result. In the interests of elevating it again, the British broadcast media should only accord him airtime proportionate to his status as a fringe MEP and failed parliamentary candidate.

Whatever happens in the referendum, it will be a long, difficult task to repair our society and politics

The vast majority of people in the UK are not actively bigoted. Some see the world as an interconnected whole and enjoy the variety provided by being immersed in multicultural diversity. Others, to varying degrees, worry about traditions being lost and the pace of change to their communities. There are also concerns about migration placing pressure on housing, employment and essential services such as schools and hospitals.

There are counter arguments to some of these concerns too, of course, such as the boost migrants provide to the economy and how they often take on jobs that keep those essential services running and for which there are not enough local workers.

The point is that all of these are reasonable views and concerns. Indeed, it is not uncommon for someone to hold elements of them all at once. It should, in a functioning democracy, be possible to discuss these issues sensibly and work out solutions that are satisfactory to most.

Sadly, this broad mass of people has been split acrimoniously by the EU referendum campaign. Some “Leave” sympathisers have been too easily seduced by nasty xenophobic myths. Some “Remain” supporters have been too quick to push them in that direction by tarring them with fascism. I have certainly been too quick to make such allusions about “Leave” backers and even linked them to Satanism in a recent article. It was a joke, honest, but one that does not look well-judged in hindsight.

The reality is that there are good people who care deeply about their country on both sides of the debate about Britain’s future in the EU. They have been badly served by those leaders who have traded in exaggeration, abuse and outright lying throughout the campaign. But too many of us have, at times, been too willing to join in.

Whatever happens in the referendum, it will be a long, difficult task to repair our society and politics. We - all of the reasonable people, on all sides, who have the best interests of our country at heart - will have to do our share to make it happen. Now is the time to make an extra effort to understand other points of view and adopt a more measured tone in our debates.

A belated act of leadership by Prime Minister Cameron would be a good start to the healing process. He should acknowledge responsibility for triggering the whole sorry referendum episode by resigning. This would act as a signal to the whole country to move on to a less shrill, more respectful mode of political engagement.


More about the author

About the author

Paul Knott began his working life in a hut on Hull's King George Dock before globetrotting for two decades as an unlikely British envoy. His "instructive and funny" (Alan Johnson MP) book about his experiences, "The Accidental Diplomat", is out now.

He is also the Chief Foreign Correspondent for the Sabotage Times and contributes to publications such as The Telegraph, Forty-20 and When Saturday Comes.

All that travel has failed to shift Paul's inherited old Labour instincts.

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