For decades I went along with the anti-European rhetoric disseminated by the populist press and Europhobe politicians. It was a given, part of our national narrative, and in a fuzzy way, I was happy to subscribe to the notion that we Brits are in some way better and more honourable than our European neighbours. I could imagine that EU bureaucrats were hell-bent on tying us up in red tape whilst extracting exorbitant amounts of cash for doing so. I didn’t necessarily read those papers or agree with those politicians, I just listened to the mood music. I needed no evidence; it was just a feeling.
So, come September 2015, I recall enjoying telling a frankly incredulous English friend living in France that I wouldn’t be surprised if the UK voted to walk away from the EU. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I did want her to understand that many of us had had enough.
I listened to the arguments on both sides. While the pro-EU case was dispassionate, nuanced and dull, the case against was shorter on facts but argued with conviction, passion and optimism. Sometimes I felt – Yes! Let’s just do it! Let’s hold hands and jump!
Don’t worry if you don’t understand all the arguments, they promised, just leave it to us! Experts? What do they know about anything anyway?! The EU needs us more than we need them! We’re a great trading nation and can make deals wherever we want! With one bound we will take back control and all be free!
My friends and acquaintances were split equally Leave/Remain. One day a friend who watched Russian TV for “balance”, told me she’d changed her mind and would now vote Leave after watching a documentary about the EU. This troubled me, though I wasn’t aware of Russian influence then.
I did start to read and check facts.
June 2016. One evening I debated with Leave-leaning friends and empathised with their concerns about migration, housing, jobs and stretched services. But the causal link between these problems and our membership of the EU felt increasingly tenuous. I said I thought I was likely to vote Remain, though I was unsure enough to admit that time might prove me wrong.
Like everyone, I wanted to make an informed decision. Opinions were ten a penny, but facts were hard to find. As I researched, I grew to appreciate the positives of membership, and what we stood to lose. Especially the EU’s pivotal role in maintaining peace, stability, the rule of law and human rights in Europe and the wider world and in promoting the prosperity of its citizens. And the threat to the EU itself from right wing extremism and nationalism, which would be emboldened by our leaving. This did not seem to me to be a reason to desert the sinking ship, as so many urged, but a reason to remain and fight.
The obvious deceptions and false promises peddled by the Leave campaigns, the Brexit-supporting press and the capering antics of Nigel Farage finished the job. Still, believing naively in the pollsters’ prediction that Remain would prevail, I submitted my postal vote for Remain and set off on holiday to Italy.
24th June 2016. Do we all remember where we were when we heard the news? I was in a B&B on the Amalfi coast. The sun shone, the sea was blue, and nothing had changed. Except that everything had changed. 48/52. I suddenly and from out of nowhere felt a deep shame. I felt I needed to explain to Italians strolling in the street, to anyone. Do not think I wanted this.
I just didn’t know before that day how much I cared. I remember that day writing on Facebook of upset but also my conviction that there was nothing to be done. This was the will of the people, democracy, a decision made by the majority of voters, which must be honoured. (We didn’t know then the depth and duplicity of the mind-games and manipulation which had helped bring in the vote.)
I marched at one of the pro-EU rallies in London. Simply to say, “Not in My Name”. Not being a natural marcher, I didn’t bring a banner and was pleased to be offered one by a fellow-marcher. It was perfect; “LIES DESTROY DEMOCRACY” it said.
How many of us understood what the EU did? Yet we were asked to make what was to be the most momentous decision of our lives. I didn’t know, none of us knew, what we were voting for. How on earth could we when, as is now clear, those who promised us their different versions of the earth had no idea themselves? This was not democracy.
Did they tell us that there would even be a bill to settle on leaving, let alone one of £40 billion? All the different forms of Brexit, the significance of Single Markets, Customs Unions, Irish Border issues endangering the hard-won peace, the effect on joint scientific projects, our universities and major industries, the effects on Brits overseas, what did we know of these? Were those in already-disadvantaged communities who voted for their children’s futures told how much the EU was putting into those areas and how little they stood to gain from leaving?
The Pied Pipers who told us they knew were quick to distance themselves from their promises once they had their votes. £350m a week – well of course, let’s put that in context …er ummm. Truth becomes False News.
There is not, there never was, a coherent plan. Mess upon mess and we are only at the beginning.
So now onto those Trade Deals. The subject of so much wishful and unsubstantiated thinking by the Brexiteers. Do we sit back, and let whatever happens happen? No, we must not. Survation’s December 2017 poll showed that half of those polled now support a second referendum. We know now how many possible Brexit scenarios there are, and – if we ever manage to get that far – we, the people, must – this time – be allowed our say.
New Bath for Europe Member, Wiltshire