A few days back I managed to blow up my Twitter timeline when I tweeted that I’d voted Leave on 23th June 2016 but could no longer support leaving the EU. Several people have asked why I ever voted Leave in the first place and what’s brought about the change of heart.
Firstly, I’m not a member of any political party, I’m not an activist and didn’t campaign for Leave in the Referendum. I’ve always been vaguely Eurosceptic, thinking the single market and freedom of movement a good thing, but that pushing ahead with integration against popular consent is unwise. I don’t like the term sovereignty, I prefer ‘accountability’ and generally think the closer to home the better. There was a feeling, to use the cliché that ‘we joined a common market not a political union’. The phony renegotiation seemed to confirm my view that the EU has a tin-ear towards countries that don’t see themselves on a continuous the path to ‘ever closer union’.
During the campaign I didn’t pay much attention to the likes of Nigel Farage, immigration not being a subject that exercised me. I did find the Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan quite convincing. He seemed to articulate a vision where we would somehow keep the benefits of the Single Market but also be more open to the world; be part of a free trade area ‘from Iceland to the Ukraine border’ but also able to strike our own trade deals. I dismissed the Remain campaign’s warning that leaving the EU would mean leaving the SM as Project Fear. In retrospect it sounds like child-like magical thinking but it was enough to convince me to put a cross in the Leave box on 23/06/16.
Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech was an unwelcome surprise. She stated we don’t seek to be inside the single market or even the EEA (that free trade area from Iceland to the Ukraine border). That wasn’t what I voted for. She appeared to be setting the policy to fit the no-ECJ line in her conference speech. Then came the Brexit white-paper . This appeared to have been written by a intern in their lunch break – thus demonstrating to everyone that we were not ready to trigger A50. Then she triggered A50 anyway. Retrospectively this looks like probably the most irresponsible decision by any British Prime Minister since…actually I can’t think of a comparison.
Watching the Govt make a total mess of the practicalities of leaving also made me rethink the principle of leaving. In the past 16 months I’ve read more on the EU institutions, the single market, customs unions, trade, bank passporting, Euratom etc etc than I ever thought possible. The EU is not perfect and some solution must be found to allow countries to move ahead with further political integration at different speeds. However, I can now see that being part of a customs union but also being free to make our own deals with other countries is a logical contradiction. I’m now aware that the single market is not just ‘free trade’ – it’s a regulatory level playing field with a legal order to enforce those regulations and that you can’t pick and choose which rules are for you.
I’m now aware that we already have free trade deals with large parts of the world – just that they’ve been negotiated by the EU and leaving the EU also means leaving those arrangements overnight. I now know what Euratom is – an utterly non-controversial arrangement for nuclear cooperation which we’re seemingly leaving just to prove a point. Not what I voted for. I could go on and on… But basically the more information I had the more I questioned the principle of leaving at the same time as realizing the practicalities are beyond any Govt in the timescale available.
So in summary, if there was the ‘one thing’ that changed my view it’s the Govt decision to leave the EEA. But there was also a process of learning about the EU and learning just what leaving it means in a wider context I guess the lesson here is the more information you have when making a decision the more likely your decision will be the correct one.