EU and Me

I started this blog on the fifteenth of January, 2019. My first article was published at the height of the crippling indecision that was eradicating faith in our democracy.

Long story short, it was an utter shit show.

Theresa May had been to Brussels, negotiated a “Brexit deal” to some degree, but had no majority in Parliament. Her decision to hold a snap election and promptly lose her majority had seen to that.

Because she barely had the numbers to actually enact any policy, the Spartans of the ERG were holding her to ransom, and were pushing for a full break from the EU. Months of indecision and conflict within Parliament meant that her mandate, if she ever had any, was as meaningful as a “We tried to deliver your package” note from Royal Mail.

She was ousted, Boris Johnson took the reigns, and he openly mocked our institutions. By proroguing Parliament, he lied to the Queen, the people, and the judiciary. But that counted for nothing.

In the General Election, he won one of the most overwhelming majorities since Margaret Thatcher. His vision was mandated, his style approved, and his version of Brexit unstoppable.

The result? We have finally left the EU.

And, in 2016, this is what I wanted.

I have been a student of politics for twelve years, and even before then was more involved with it than most. From the age of 13, I read the Daily Mail – its sensationalist headlines and passionate editorials were very alluring. I only gave it up when I realised how biased and unnecessarily racist I felt it to be.

…Martin Samuel was a cracking sports editor, to be fair.

After shunning the Daily Mail, I moved to The Times – the newspaper of balance, supposedly. Around that time I started studying politics academically. This progressed from AS level, to A level, to an undergraduate degree at Durham University. I studied the Arab Spring during the overthrow of Mubarak, German politics at a time of great introspection in the German system, and US politics during the Obama era.

But nothing meant more to me than the bare-bones, nerdy-as-hell, nitty-gritty analysis of the British political system.

I first learned about the EU (properly, that is) at the age of 17. We had been a member of this supranational institution for the best part of forty years, but I had some major misgivings.

We gave up our sovereignty to be a part of this group. What had started as a trading bloc had slowly but surely become a major influence on policy across the continent, influencing everything from trade deals to human rights.

While the policies the EU dictated were largely admirable, they still weren’t being dictated by us, who I still thought to be a major international force. I didn’t like this one bit. Nor did I understand why our Great Britain was no longer being recognised as a world leader in international relations.

Over my studies, I became more and more concerned about how little say we had in the grand plans of these Brussels-based bureaucrats. “We’re the United Kingdom, though!” I thought. “We won World War II, we are the major players here, we deserve to be heard.”

I learned about UKIP. I learned about how there was a faction, relatively small, who wanted to leave the EU, led by a strange man called Nigel Farage. They were hell-bent on leaving this “misbegotten entity”, and restore the United Kingdom to its former, international glory.

I didn’t much like UKIP. I especially didn’t like Nigel Farage. But I conceded that they had a point.

And, in 2016, when I heard that there was going to be a referendum on whether or not we should remain in the EU, I thought, “Actually, this could be a really good opportunity for us. What has the EU ever done for us?”

Clearly, I wasn’t alone. As it turns out, millions of people across the UK had exactly the same worries and concerns as me: we eventually voted to leave the EU.

But, in between the calling of the referendum and the vote, I decided to listen. I wasn’t sure of my convictions, and I thought that if there could be a good, solid reason to stay in then I would give it the chance it deserved.

And it wasn’t easy to find it. The “Remain” camp were incessantly negative, with their arguments focussing far more on the “If we leave, x will decrease,” rather than “We will increase x if we remain.”

It was appalling. But the Leave campaign was far, far worse.

The second that the word “Empire” was used, absent-mindedly or not, alarm bells started ringing with the fervour of Big Ben’s bongs in an amphitheatre. The protagonists (or antagonists, depending on your view) of the Leave campaign, led indefatigably by the other-worldly Dominic Cummings, sought to “Take back control.”

This concept of restoring former glory was what, ultimately, resonated with a country where millions of the population were left bereft by Tony Blair’s erstwhile-yet-elitist push towards globalisation.

And, what’s more, this idea should have resonated with me, too.

This is what I was concerned about, after all. Finally, after decades of incremental influence upon our democratic systems by the unelected “EUrocrats”, we would be free from oppression.

But it just sounded hollow. I didn’t know why, at first, but the more that I read, the more I understood.

I started to learn that the textbooks that had made me wary of the EU were out of date. Technological advances had irrevocably and irreversibly changed the world of international relations. What used to be a group of autonomous, easily-defined states had started to congeal into a forever-undulating, insanely-intricate web of supranational checks, balances, and regulations (all, ultimately, to benefit our wellbeing).

It took a lot of reading to understand just how intricate this web had become. But the more I read, the more I understood that being a part of the EU was an irrefutable positive, not a negative.

For instance, I started to learn about how we, as citizens of the EU, are protected from free-market capitalism, where profit rules over morality.

When we buy a sandwich from Tesco, we know that we are not eating something that contains damaging chemicals or low-standards of production. Products will be checked as a part of EU regulations to ensure high standards are met (hence the issues around chlorinated chicken, should we form a trading partnership with the US).

When we browse the internet, we now know that our personal data cannot be harvested without our consent – GDPR protections are an EU directive.

When we are worried about people who come to our country to spy on us, cause damage to us, or even kill us, the EU’s criminal data network makes us exponentially more effective at stopping them. Europol is an incredibly effective network that can track, arrest, and convict those who seek to do us harm.

Being a part of the EU was, indisputably, a trade-off. We gave up a part of our sovereignty, but, in return, we were protected from a multitude of forces that would do us harm.

And I was no longer ready to assume that sovereignty trumped our best interests. There was, is, and never will again be a scenario where we are worse off by being a part of the biggest supranational institution in the world.

So I fought against leaving. I voted against it, I persuaded friends and relatives that it was a bad idea, and I started this blog.

It was already too late.

The last few years have been eye-wateringly embarrassing for our nation. We have seen a gridlocked Parliament consistently reject the pushes of a Government that assumed it had power where it had none. We have seen a Speaker of the House be dragged into political discourse by his own hand (regardless of whether or not you think he was acting in the interests of democracy or his own hubris). We have seen our Government lie to the Queen, to the public, and to the wider international community.

We have become a laughing stock.

But, despite the mayhem, there was a glimmer of hope. It seemed, for a moment, that these decisions around Brexit would be revealed to be as insane as they were jingoistic – a delusional afterthought to the nation that once ruled the world.

Britain will never have another Empire, and thank Christ on a bicycle for that fact.

But the idea that it might remains a beacon. To the Mark Francois’s. To the Tommy Robinsons. To those who think that this country can do better.

And do you know what? This country can do better.

But not in that way.

I was there at the moment we left the EU. I was in Parliament Square, surrounded by thousands of people who were overjoyed at the prospect of us being independent once again.

There were cretins, for sure. Cries of “MILLWALL, MILLWALL” cried out as this happened:

…And that is objectively funny.

But I listened to the people around me. Young, old, white, BAME… largely, the feeling was of liberation. Like this was about to be the start of something. The dawning of a new era of British politics.

In many ways, they weren’t wrong. This is going to be one of the most seismic changes in British politics in the last century. But there is one thing that must, always, be reiterated:

Not a single person at that rally wanted Brexit to happen because it would make us worse off.

Every person there thought that this will only be a positive for our country from here on out. And now, we will find out if they are right or not.

So, what next?

We can’t know for certain what will actually happen. The “Sunlit Uplands” might really be around the corner. I hope they are.

But the world is due another economic downturn. Slowing growth will damage everyone, from China, to the US, to the EU. But one thing is for damn sure – being a part of the EU’s regulations and safeguards protects those within it.

We do not have those protections anymore.

We are now alone. Maybe the British spirit can prevail, and I truly hope it does. No patriot wants anything ill to fall on their country just for the sake of being proved right.

But, if every economist worth their salt is to be believed, we are about to enter one of the most dangerous periods in our economic history.

What will actually happen is open for debate. I, for one, hope my initial instincts end up being correct, and leaving the EU opens us up to be an independent powerhouse again.

I’m not sure they will be though.

Goodbye, EU. You have your faults, by the bucketload in fact.

But we are about to take responsibility for ourselves. And I’m not sure we’re ready for it.