I think it's fair that anyone who's followed my tweets since the start of this year already knows what I think about Brexit in some detail!

For those who haven't, I voted remain. I've been deeply sceptical of the European Union and its motives for a very long time, so this came as a bit of a surprise to a lot of people.

In fact, the 14 year old me represented UKIP in a school mock election. This wasn't because I particularly held with Robert Kilroy-Silk's brand of politics (although given his manifesto was only a few pages long, it was hard to tell), but because I felt the arguments being made were legitimate and worthy of debate.

Unfortunately back in 2005, you were basically shut down as a racist if you wanted to discuss immigration or criticised Europe's political project in any way. I still remember being booed by hundreds of my peers when I uttered the words "controlling immigration isn't racist" on stage. But I wasn't the only person thinking this, and these days it's "suddenly" the received wisdom. How times change!

Legitimate criticisms

To be honest, I think the anecdote I just gave you is the very nub of the problem.

For a long time, the educated classes effectively blocked debate on the subject of Britain's integration into the European union. They did the same when they saw local businesses destroyed by large multinationals that could afford to live with the EU's rampant over-regulation due to their scale and ability to dodge their tax obligations. And they turned a deaf ear to concerns raised by people losing their livelihoods when those same multinationals started offshoring jobs and eastern European migrants started arriving en masse because it benefited their own ideology or interests.

Don't get me wrong, on the whole immigration & globalisation has boosted Western economies and made us all collectively richer and more tolerant of other peoples and cultures. But it's also left a huge number of people behind because it was politically convenient to do so.

So we have half the country (particularly London) enjoying the fruits of free movement and tariff-free trade across an entire continent. But the other half have spent most of their lives struggling to get by and experience little or no benefit from EU membership.

On top of that, there's a lack of transparency in how the EU makes decisions. While it's great we had elected representatives in an EU parliament, until the run-up to the EU referendum you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who could adequately explain what they actually do or how to contact your local MEP. Similarly, nobody seemed sure exactly what EU commissioners do either. All the public had to go on were media reports of high salaries, generous expense accounts and the fact the entire structure never seems to pass financial audits.

But worst of all is that the EU in general does not protect the right people. As we saw during the Eurozone crisis, Southern Europe was treated abysmally by Germany and the northern states. Italy had a technocrat governor installed to run the country. Greece was forced to sell all the family silver just to keep functioning. They're effectively held hostage because they can't borrow, lack a currency to devalue, and buying cheaper non-EU goods incurs mandatory tariffs.

While there was a punitive financial transaction tax imposed to "punish" the banks, they were really punishing themselves because they'd copied Gordon Brown's daft model of nationalising banks and forcing the taxpayer to pay down their debts for decades instead of letting them fail in an organised way for making bad lending decisions.

Genuinely, it still amazes me those same banks that did so well out of this arrangement still have the gall to assist tax avoiders and insist they'll move abroad if they have to pay back their debt to society!

I can't speak for those living on the continent, but it comes as little surprise to hear reports of alternative parties seeing a rise in support and approval rates for the EU reaching an all-time low. The European Union needs massive reform, and it needs it urgently.

A change of heart

So, I was 100% behind the idea of holding a referendum so we could have a national discussion about whether we're going to engage with and help reform the EU or leave and take up a looser trade arrangement. When you have 2 million people voting for UKIP in general elections and the Tories surge in the EU elections on the promise of an referendum on our membership you figure it's probably the right time.

What happened next however was a massive disappointment. David Cameron's "renegotiation" was a complete sham. It did very little to address peoples' actual concerns and the final agreement wasn't even legally-binding.

On top of that we saw possibly the worst-fought referendum campaign in living memory. The remain campaign failed to provide any positive reasons to justify our membership of the European Union and the leave campaign decided that facts were unnecessary and experts weren't to be trusted.

In the end I made the decision in March 2016 that I was going to vote remain in the June referendum on the grounds people in my industry told me Brexit would affect inward investment and the only expert (and supposedly impartial) voices from the IMF and OECD were also saying that Britain risked significant economic turmoil if the country voted to leave. As neither side of the campaign were painting a practical and believable vision of the future that gave me confidence this was incorrect I reluctantly opted for the status quo and tried to convince others to do the same.

Threat or opportunity?

At this point it is far too early to tell if this is good or bad for the country, but the early signs have been mixed. The pound has taken a hammering. However, all other measures seem normal. Whether this holds up when Theresa May invokes article 50 in March 2017 remains to be seen.

But personally I think if we as a country were unwilling to engage with the European Union fully, then in the longer term maybe Brexit will turn out to be the right decision for both sides. Those on the continent can carry on with their political project unhindered and Britain can forge its own way in the world, just as we've always done.

I don't regret voting remain though, as it was the best vote I felt I could cast at the time given the available information. I also believe that we could spend 10 years paying the price for this decision, and decades more if our government gets Brexit wrong.

October 17, 2016 in #opinion #politics #brexit #european union #united kingdom | | | Share on Google+