This is a difficult time for Britain. Two reactions are inappropriate. It would be wrong to panic or to react in a way that increases the divisions that obviously exist in our country. However, it would be equally wrong not to acknowledge the seriousness of this moment in our history. The country is split almost in half on an issue that is fundamental to many parts of our political, economic and social life.
The future of the United Kingdom as a political entity is being questioned. Our internal constitutional arrangements are about to be tested. Fissures have begun to re open on sensitive issues in Northern Ireland. The hope of many (including a number of the leaders of the official leave campaign) to remain in the single market is not capable of achievement if the wishes of the majority of voters are to be respected.
The majority appear to have voted to have all our laws made at Westminster and for full control over migration yet a single market is by definition one where the same rules apply to all and the single market they want to remain part of is a single market in goods, capital and people. The most complicated legal, political and commercial negotiation in history may be about to commence. The chances of the solution leading to acrimony and feelings of betrayal or cynicism at broken promises are high.
What we need now more than anything is a statesman or woman motivated only by the national interest and with the skills and experience to navigate through these choppy waters.
However, we must also reflect on the political culture we have allowed to be created.
Why have we permitted the truth to depart from our political discourse? It began with ‘spin’, shifted to half truths and statements masterly saying nothing at all and now we appear to be happy to accept demonstrable untruths if they assist in putting forward positions we are inclined to agree with.
Why are we content to elect politicians so many of whom are too inexperienced or too lacking in the necessary personal resources do the job we need them to do? We need men and women who can navigate and lead an extremely complicated and connected world yet at the same time listen to those who feel left out or behind by that world and re arrange it so that those constituencies also get its benefits.
Why do we tolerate a national press that no longer provides balanced and objective coverage of even the most important debates? Why do we buy newspapers which can and do tear up lives and reputations and put our public figures in fear of ever taking courageous and far sighted decisions, rather than boycott them as corroding our democracy itself. Have you ever looked at a newsstand and all the headlines objectively and wondered what kind of a society we have become.
This is a time for a national pause. A time for honesty and for reflection, even of prayer. A time for genuine and respectful dialogue. However, it is also a time, finally, for the truth in public discourse and for us to face up to the kind of country we would like to be.
David O’Mahony is a barrister and the new chairman of the Catholic Union
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