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Wrong focus: Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith have proved to be incapable of tuning in to the concerns of Leave-voting Labour supporters (©Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images)

The vote to leave the European Union will increasingly be seen to be one of the most transformative actions ever taken by the British people, who were accidentally given the opportunity to decide the future of their country. The electorate seized this opportunity in an astonishing way. Here was a nation instructing its leaders, rather than its leaders, sometimes reluctantly, coming into line with its electorate.

The vote’s final impact could even be greater than that of World War One or World War Two. The Brexit decision marks a totally new phase of British politics which politicians so far are being very slow to comprehend. While Theresa May has responded determinedly to events, it is far from clear that she has yet appreciated the power and scope of the new politics that have been created. Winston Churchill unfairly wrote of Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement record in order to make his own contribution appear greater, but to the detriment of postwar politics that struggled not to see world events through the prism of fighting dictators. Yet the change from Chamberlain to Churchill signalled a transformative move that we should now be equalling. The Chamberlain government saw the war with Hitler as another issue being dealt with using the usual methods of a peacetime government. Churchill made the war total and adopted the government’s machinery so that it reflected the aims and ambitions of the government and the nation. That war was won because victory was the only aim of any importance for the government, even if other peacetime issues pushed their way onto the political agenda. A similar change in the structure of government is needed if our new war by negotiations is to be equally successful.

On the international stage, politics will centre on the repositioning of Britain as a significant player in the world without being part of the EU. This change must not be underestimated. A phase of Britain leading an empire that merged into a commonwealth, followed by a period of what I see as entrapment within the EU, is now at an end. Britain has to refashion its position in the world. While it might be difficult to get politicians to adjust to this new reality, this is the position that we have moved to and from which we have to rebuild our world status.

I hope there will be friendship with the EU, but the period in which we were locked into an inward European arrangement is coming to its peaceful close. How we position ourselves as an independent, but outwardly-looking, moderately significant player on the world stage is a crucial part of the Brexit transition.

Such a transition will, of course, raise our so called “special relationship” with the United States. In the position we will find ourselves it is crucial that we do not treat the US as mother and run to her for protection. One of the weaknesses of our position in postwar politics was the straitjacket into which Churchill brilliantly, but so damagingly, cast Britain. For understandable reasons Churchill was an Americophile. Trying to convince America that it had a special relationship with us, he thought, was crucial to winning World War Two.
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