Only 3 hours to go before the UK formally leaves the EU and I am feeling extremely sad about it. At the moment I don’t have the energy to be angry, but the sadness is coloured with frustration and dismayed disappointment.
I was 16 years only when the UK joined the EEC and I cast my first ever vote in the 1975 referendum. My sixth form took their responsibility to inform the first time voters under their care very seriously. My parents and I watched or listened to as many of the debates on radio and television as we could.
Community with Germany was something they had never dared dream of
My grandparents were old enough to remember two world wars and my parents one. The thought of joining an organisation whose core principle was to build lasting peace, unity and harmony between previously waring parties thrilled them. There may well have been benefits to trade arrangements and the economy, and we at school learned all about VAT, but joining a peaceful and co-operative community with Germany was something they had never dared dream of in their youth. It was for them the culmination of what they and their friends had fought and died for. Now those awkward French had let us in, after years of us trying, we would be mad to leave. We were finally part of Winston Churchill’s dream of a united Europe. A reason to be proud.
I remember my dad explaining that membership of the EEC opened up opportunities for me and my siblings. We would be able to travel across Europe, work and meet others. Something which had been virtually impossible for him in his youth. Indeed, a few years later I did and it was the making of me.
Over the last three years it has been distressing to hear so many claim that voters in 1975 were deceived into thinking they were merely joining a trading group and the real aims of the EEC were hidden from us. For those of us who listened, it was always about much more than that. Some examples:
Even more upsetting are the assertions that Brexit is a liberation, as though from an invading army or occupying force, or that we needed to escape a dictatorship and honour what our boys fought and died for in two world wars.
Those who actually fought tend to see things differently. Here are two of them:
Who does Brexit free and empower?
I am especially sad because I have spoken to many well meaning people who wanted improvements to their lives, and certainly many deserve a much fairer crack of the whip. Over the time since the Brexit vote it has been clear that many of these people have developed doubts about Brexit’s ability to deliver but had become trapped by the rhetoric of “honouring democracy”, “will of the people” and tribal stereotypes. I suspect many of them will feel misused and abandoned again.
Who does Brexit free and empower? No one. It merely hands more power and control to those who already had it and removes significant and important checks and balances which we will appreciate more when they’ve gone.
Without fairer voting system holding governments to account will be difficult
“Take back control of our own laws,” “we’ll be able to vote them out if we don’t like it,” “make them more accountable, they won’t have anyone else to blame,” have been typical reposts to my challenges. Well in the General Election last December the Conservatives achieved only 43.6% of the vote but gained 56.2% of the seats, giving them an 80 seat majority. The majority who wanted to vote them out were unable to do so despite achieving 56.4% of the popular vote. Unless we change to a fairer voting system, holding governments to account will be very difficult.
One of the most serious issues over the last four years has been the dramatic decline in public standards and the impunity with which politicians and governments can now lie. Until we stamp this out and demand resignations for breaches of integrity nothing will be achieved.
True patriots need to act; ignore the nationalists
I will be sad, very sad, about the loss of my rights and the enforced severing of my legal connections with European friends and neighbours but I am more worried about the state of Britain, its place in the world and its reputation.
Anyone who said they voted Brexit for patriotic reasons now needs to step up and fight to restore the honour and reputation of our country. We can ignore the nationalists, they can barely see further than the length of their own nose and appear to think flags are more important than people.