Britain must have a general election before activating article 50 | Nick Clegg

We cant start the clock ticking on Brexit before weve had a chance to judge what life outside the EU would look like Former deputy prime minister calls for democratic mandate

Who would have thought? The Conservative party, the party of continuity and tradition, is now the cause of the greatest constitutional crisis in modern times. The party of business is now the source of reckless economic turmoil. The natural party of government is now presiding over paralysis in Westminster and Whitehall. The party of the British bulldog spirit is now leading our great country towards rudderless introspection.

There is something almost grotesque in the contrast between the self-indulgence of the Conservative leadership contest and the anxiety gripping millions of families worried about the future. The media swarms around Michael Goves self-absorbed pronouncements justifying the tawdry betrayal of his friends.

A nervous nation, unsure what it has done to itself, is subject to the tedious, vituperative comments from one Conservative nonentity about another. No wonder Theresa May a diligent, hard-working if unimaginative politician stands out as a grownup in that political playground.

This cannot go on. Somehow we must navigate the country through the months ahead. The government not only finds itself without leadership, it has no plan, no consensus and no clue about what it wants to do in the future. The only thing it agrees on is that the UKshould leave the EU. But how, whenand to what end all remain unanswered. It enjoys a mandate to quit, butno mandate as to how this should be done.

This is partly the result of the unforgivable cynicism of a Brexit campaign that refused to tell voters what comes next. But it is also a consequence of contradictory opinions: the hedge fund owners who financed the campaign want to turn the City into a lowregulation Dubai; Boris Johnson wanted to open Britain to far-flung continents; Michael Gove wants to close Britain against incomers; and most Brexiteers witter about maintaining access to the single market while not being subject to its rules, apparently oblivious to the glaring contradiction.

This debilitating cocktail of hubris, incompetence and dishonesty must be overcome if the country is to move forward. This is what we should do.

First, each Conservative leadership candidate must set out, in detail, what they think our future relationship with Europe should be. Second, the new prime minister, to be announced on 9September, should immediately publish a white paper setting out a full plan. And third, he or she must then seek a democratic mandate for their plan in an early general election.

The notion that it should be left to Conservative members to handpick a new prime minister for what in effect will be a new government pursuing new priorities is absurd.

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