I supported Leave for a variety of reasons. I didn’t think that Britain fitted well into the EU. I didn’t think our membership was sustainable. I believed it blighted our political debate, from Maastricht in the early 1990s, to the euro row, and to Lisbon and beyond. Something had to give in the end and so I wanted us to settle our EU question, that had come to aggravate our perpetual national identity crisis, once and for all. Once we were on the outside, I believed we could be perfectly happy. The British public would likely be uninterested in pro-EU campaigns, much like the Norwegians.
I thought consistent public scepticism and apathy to EU elections was part and parcel the problem. We were never enthused by the European project. As the EU integrated further, our apathy would become more of a problem and our political system would seem even less democratic. Turnout for European Parliament elections in the UK has always ranged from 30-35% since 1979. Not exactly a ringing endorsement from the public.
EU membership seemed to bring out the worst in our politicians. They used it as a convenient scapegoat all the time. They pretended to dislike policies implemented via the EU and used this to abdicate responsibility and avoid accountability.
I questioned the democratic credentials of the EU’s institutions and the process of its law making, which was aggravated by a combination of the way our politicians interacted with the EU and British public apathy towards membership and European elections.
The UK, I concluded, was politically and culturally not a good permanent fit in the EU. I thought that deeper integration would lead to further divergence and the UK would be pushed further to the margins. It seemed to me that we’d be better off with a new, close partnership from outside.
I, of course, did not think that the process of getting to that point would be so appallingly managed. Nor that this would turn into a culture war, the toxicity of which has been hugely amplified by events from the rise of Corbyn and Trump and the crisis in the Conservative Party. I didn’t read the politics well at all, I didn’t have the experience to do so. So, it’s all been easier said than done, to say the least.
Sign up for our FREE Reaction Weekend Email
Read the week's best-read articles on politics, business and geopolitics
Receive offers and exclusive invites
Plus uplifting cultural commentary
We are leaving an international organisation to form a new partnership with it from the outside. This did not need to be the end of days. The UK, Europe and the world is going to face far bigger challenges than this in the future. Let’s face it, it is kind of ridiculous that we’ve collapsed in the face of this needlessly.
I don’t believe my principles and instincts that drove my support for Brexit were extreme or unreasonable. I did however build on them with arguments to support a case for Leave. Many of these turned out to be wrong. Either because of political or economic misjudgements or ignorance that I later alleviated. I was never knowingly dishonest, but I did make some faulty arguments and claims that were wrong and I regret that.
However, I still believe there are reasonable considerations here that need to be addressed by people who believe in stopping Brexit or seek reaccession in the future. Otherwise the UK will not obtain sustainable EU membership by consent.
Personally, in 2016 if I had decided to vote Remain it would’ve been on a transactional basis; because of the benefits of the Single Market, the extra clout in trade and in international organisations. I would have endorsed membership as a cynical foreign policy strategy to further our interests. To break up the Franco-German dominance of the European continent and to try to lead and shape Europe in our image. It’s what I call the Sir Humphrey option, after the senior civil servant in the 1980s satire Yes Minister.
I know, what a terrible old cynic I am. It’s not that I don’t believe in peace and reconciliation through economic integration and institutional political cooperation. I just don’t have a dreamy, utopian view of the EU and its members.
If a re-accession campaign does launch after Brexit, it cannot look like the dire Remain or People’s Vote campaigns. It was always easy to paint them as being run by elitist snobs who are disingenuous. A future campaign can’t be based on negativity and doomsday warnings. It will have to be honest and possibly even be based on committing to the European project rather than pledging to wield the veto and act as a roadblock. It will take a long time if it ever is successful and it faces huge challenges, especially in the short term, if Brexit does indeed happen.
In the meantime, we must rebuild Britain and form a sustainable and mutually beneficial relationship with the EU. We have to move on from the utter travesty that we have witnessed over the last three years.