Three years or so ago I was one of over seventeen million people who voted to leave the European Union.
I have for as long as I have been interested in politics been a eurosceptic, and at the risk of falling foul of the unashamedly pro-EU party I am proud to be a member of, I still am. But, in the event, I finally chose to vote to leave because I believed the rhetoric that we would agree a mutually-beneificial deal and depart with some semblance of economic security. What a fool I was.
Fundamentally, the EU is not a socialist paradise built for the enhancement of individuals, but an economic trading bloc designed around protecting member states and the movement of goods and services. For all the many advantages membership of the EU brings, the rights of free citizens and advancement of liberty cannot be counted among them, for the European elite would cast the individual aside without a second thought if the common goal of frictionless trade in a united Europe were at stake.
In October 2017, during the independence referendum in Catalonia, the EU remained silent while one of its member states ordered riot police to violently attack peaceful voters. Whatever the legality (or otherwise) of the referendum in question, such an attack on peaceful European citizens is unacceptable from a member of an organisation which wishes to present itself as the defender of individual rights, and the lack of public admonishment from the EU is shameful, to say the least.
Similarly, during the elections to the European Parliament earlier this year, three Catalan politicians were elected by over two million European citizens in free and fair elections. They had been allowed to stand by Spain, but once their victory had been confirmed they were blocked from taking their seats by employing crude administrative provisions. Now was the EU’s time to shine: as the great defender of European democracy, surely it could not stand by and allow a member state to arbitrarily overrule a democratic election to the EU’s only democratically-elected body? Well apparently they could, as they have maitained radio silence on the matter, which frankly is an insult to European citizens in Catalonia and sets a dangerous precedent. If Spain can block MEPs it disagrees with from taking their seats this year, imagine what less desirable countries might do in future elections.
To add insult to over one thousand injuries, Josep Borell, currently Spain’s acting foreign minister, has been proposed as the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs. I have previously written at length precisely why such an appointment is, to say the least, unwise, but to appoint a man who effectively compared those same voters who had been beaten up by police to bacteria on a flesh wound to head up the EU’s diplomatic corps makes me, however reluctantly, ever so slightly relieved we are walking away.
And yet at the same time I am a pragmatist. I recognise the economic benefits of frictionless trade with our closest neighbours and unfettered access to a market of around half a billion people. Losing free access to that market overnight will, whatver the government and the Farages of this world might like to tell us, have untold consequences for some time to come. How much and for how long simply cannot be foreseen, and it is that uncertainty which makes a no-deal Brexit such a dangerous prospect. After all, I did not vote to leave a right-wing protectionist bloc only for a right-wing government at home to place the economic security of our nation, our jobs, our food or our healthcare at risk.
For all the above and more, if there were a second referendum tomorrow, I could not tell you which way I would vote, purely because it would depend on the question being asked. If it were a choice between remaining in the EU and leaving with the current deal, it would require some serious thought but it is likely I would vote to remain, as the deal we have been presented with (thanks in large part to Theresa May’s contradictory red lines) is not a good deal for the UK. If it were a choice between remaining in the EU and leaving on a different deal, it would depend on the terms of such an agreement.
However, if it were a choice between remaining in the EU and leaving without a deal, I would vote to remain without a moment’s hesitation. I have never been one to believe in unicorns, and I am personally not a fan of driving off an economic cliff edge at 70 miles per hour with no idea how big the drop is likely to be.
I am, therefore, pleased that parliament will now have the opportunity to legislate formally against leaving without a deal, and I can only hope that it makes the most of the control it has taken back from an unelected executive hell-bent on leaving the EU on 31 October whatever the cost.