- Brexit has made Britain an object of pity around the world, the UK’s former foreign secretary David Miliband has told Business Insider.
- The International Rescue Committee CEO said people ask him “what’s happened to your country” and are bemused by the entire process. “It is awful to be an object of pity,” he said.
- Miliband supports a second referendum, but said it is “not yet probable” as Prime Minister Theresa May faces a crunch week for Brexit.
DAVOS, Switzerland – David Miliband, Britain’s former foreign secretary, thinks that Brexit has made the UK an object of pity across the world because of the political instability it is creating in Westminster.
After leaving British politics in 2013, Miliband is now the CEO of humanitarian aid NGO, the International Rescue Committee. He keeps a close eye on events in the UK, but has an outsider’s perspective given he is based in New York.
Speaking to Business Insider at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Miliband said people he talks to are baffled by the position Britain finds itself in, as the country edges towards its 29 March EU departure date with no exit plan yet agreed by Theresa May’s government.
“Any British person who is subject to a sense of pity from people in other countries can’t enjoy that – and I’m certainly in that position,” said Miliband, who supported Britain remaining in the EU.
“People are very bemused at best and appalled at worst that a pragmatic, sensible, internationalist country, famed for his political stability, should have allowed itself to have the Brexit vote and then so massively misplay the last two years of negotiations. They simply can’t understand that and they just shake their heads. It is awful to be an object of pity.”
Miliband added: “People say what’s happened to your country and they think that it’s dangerous for Britain and they don’t think it’s good for the world. They can see that it is a symptom of some deep concerns that motivated the Brexit vote. They don’t disrespect the voters. But they think it’s a tragedy for Britain.”
The prime minister faces a series of critical parliamentary votes next week, which could decide whether the UK leaves the EU with a deal agreed by the government. The alternatives are no-deal, which the government itself is seeking to avoid but won’t yet take off the table, an extension of the two-year Brexit timetable, or a second referendum, which currently does not have a parliamentary majority.
Miliband: A People’s Vote is possible but not probable
Miliband has been a vocal supporter of a so-called People’s Vote, but now recognises that it is not the most likely of outcomes. Business Insider reported this week on infighting within the People’s Vote campaign, where there is growing disagreement about what to do next as the clock ticks on.
“A year ago it [a second referendum] was seen as very unlikely. Now it seems not impossible. It is not yet probable, but it is not impossible,” the former Labour MP said, adding that a no-deal scenario would be “calamitous for the country.”
Miliband, who is the brother of former Labour leader Ed Miliband, added that even after Britain’s withdrawal is decided, greater challenges lie ahead. For those sick of hearing about Brexit, it could yet get worse, he said.
“If you think the last two years’ negotiations have been difficult over the withdrawal agreement. This is only the beginning. Because the most difficult issues are ahead,” Miliband explained.
“The dilemmas that are raised around Ireland are only an indication of the dilemmas that we raise as we march through every aspect of economic and social and political life to figure out how … we’re going to see a government seeking to recreate the successful parts of our relationship with the European Union from outside. And that’s going to be a painful process.
“When I hear people say look ‘I’ve had enough Brexit the last thing I want to hear is more headlines about Brexit.’ The only way to get Brexit out of the headlines is to get shot of Brexit because if we go ahead with this we will be negotiating it for years to come.”