Britain has spoken and now it is for Government and Parliament to respect the result of the referendum and carry forward the instruction to take us out of the European Union. It has been a long campaign which has divided families, communities and the nation. Almost three quarters of those under 24 voted to remain whilst their grandparents' generation voted decisively to leave. In Torbay the clear majority embraced Brexit whilst in the neighbouring South Hams most people did not. Scotland and Northern Ireland wanted in whilst England and Wales voted out. In the end, months of complex arguments seemed to boil down to a tug between immigration and sovereignty on the one hand versus the economy, stability and our links with Europe on the other. Now it is time to put the divisions behind us and move on.
My job as your MP will be to do everything I can to help to support the long task ahead. Taking us out of a 43 year relationship will not happen quickly. The tone of the debate with our 27 partners must remain positive if we are to grow Britain's place alongside them as European neighbours rather than descend into an acrimonious divorce. In setting that tone, the government must set out early to reassure those who are already living in the UK from other EU nations that they are welcome to stay. Without the 130,000 valued staff who qualified elsewhere in Europe, currently working in health and social care for example, our NHS would not be able to function. An atmosphere of mutual friendship and respect will be equally important for the hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens living across the Channel. Britain has voted to leave the institution of the EU, not Europe and voted to be able to control our borders in the future, not to slam them shut.
David Cameron has made a dignified decision to step down to allow fresh leadership to negotiate the complicated path which lies ahead of us. My view is that this needs to be someone with experience, statesmanship and stamina who can be a unifying figure at home and command respect on the world stage. Britain needs us to move quickly and decisively on this so that the negotiations can begin. A long period of uncertainty will be damaging for an economy already under pressure as a result of such a seismic shift.
Our next leader will also need to be someone capable of handling complex negotiations at home as well as with our EU partners. So much of our own legislation is in some way connected with EU directives or regulations that it will be necessary to adopt the majority of them and then take a thoughtful measured approach to repealing or amending them in our best interests. Whilst the most urgent issues can be prioritised, given the timescale for legislation to pass through Parliament, this is likely to take many years and put many other important issues on hold.
Some have called for an early General Election, but under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011, no Prime Minister or their Government can dissolve Parliament without a 2/3 majority in the Commons. Others are calling for Parliament to block the result and there is a rapidly growing petition to re-run the referendum but I would strongly oppose such a move because Britain has already delivered its verdict. Those MPs who, like myself, came to a different view during the campaign must not seek to obstruct the decision of the people but actively to make it a reality in the most constructive way possible. My job as chair of Parliament's Health Select Committee will also be to hold Leave campaigners in the future Government to account for the promises they made to provide extra support for the NHS from the money which we currently send to the EU. The Government should also continue the essential support for farmers and poorer communities which flows back from our gross EU contributions as well as the scientific research which has long been a net beneficiary.
Challenging times lie ahead for all of us as a result of this momentous decision but our leaders must work together, not sow further division as a result.