Today is Brexit day – although as Chris Grey and others note, Brexit is a process not an event. A lot has happened in British politics and my own life since the June 23rd 2016 EU referendum. And don’t even get me started on international relations. I’m not an expert on the EU, British politics, elections and voting, political economy or supranationalism so I won’t try and offer a hot take on any and all things Brexit here. Although for what it’s worth I remain impressed by Alan Finlayson’s piece here from June 26th 2016. But I thought it would be interesting to share my thoughts from just before the 2016 referendum. To paraphrase Malcolm Reynolds (2002) I may have been the losing side, but I’m still not convinced it was the wrong one.

What I will say, is that for me the worst excesses of Brexit have been the chauvinism (leading in places to racism and xenophobia) and the outright dismissal or indeed denunciation of critique. If Brexit has in part relied on simple ‘solutions’ and the rejection of  any and all concerns, Remain became focused on process rather than the underlying substance of people’s concerns. The worst excesses of Remain were a political class astonished that people (not ‘the people’ because we are a far from homogeneous entity with one clearly expressed will btw) had made a different decision. Simply put, with Brexit the power relationship in British politics was suddenly, if only briefly, reversed, and those with power and influence who benefit from the status quo have been rather shocked to be on the receiving end of decision making and have with a jolt felt for themselves the frustration felt by many other parts of society for a very long time.

I’d be tempted to say what’s done is done, except Brexit isn’t really done yet and won’t be for some time. And I don’t just mean the end of the 11 month transition period on Dec 31st 2020. How then to get a handle on something that is at once all encompassing and yet also somewhat intangible? I’ll be most interested (concerned) about how Brexit impacts Northern Ireland (borders, Good Friday and identity), Scotland (indyref2?), UK Higher Education (student aspirations and numbers?), British Foreign Policy (will we double down with Trump, become an active middle power or try for greatness only to find irrelevance?), the liberal international order (how will the EU adapt and what prospects for multilateralism?) and our underlying economic model (will there be more and better jobs, pay and conditions, renewed investment with an active industrial strategy, trade deals or higher tariffs?).

The EU and Me. June 19th 2016

Of course it’s not all about me but I am who I am and this is where I begin. Not quite two years ago I voted to leave one union and this Thursday I’ll be voting to remain in another. I’ve attended public events and spoken with friends, along the way appreciating that I am blessed to know people from so very many different countries who have and will continue to enrich my life. Instructive in how I have observed our unfolding EUref with its competing appeals to emotion and facts was my experience of the 2014 indyref and the irony that I *seemingly* find myself on the other side of the debate this time around. I say *seemingly* because these have been to my mind, two very different debates in both tone and content.

Having in a sense voted for *nationalism* in 2014 I recognise its appeal in 2016 although I do not share in it. I am comfortable with our membership of the EU owing to my positive direct experiences (personal relationships, ease of travel, cross border higher education collaboration) and my fundamental perspective that no state is absolutely sovereign and we can and should pool sovereignty in common cause to become more influential and effective internationally. As the centenary of the Battle of the Somme approaches, I am thankful that our generation, nor the one before paid the price of our forebears and I believe that the EU (for all its faults) has and will continue to play a massive role in ensuring this precious peace. But I am aware that mine is not the only reality.

I’ll always be among the first to remark that the EUref stems more from the ructions in the governing Conservative party than a groundswell in the country. At a time when the EU is grappling with and yes failing the refugee crisis, the Eurozone crisis, and when we are faced with instability across the Middle-East and North Africa, terrorism and Russian aggression I do not think we should be devoting attention to the availability of in work benefits in the UK to EU migrants. But having rejected criticism of the holding of the 2014 indyref as misplaced, consistency demands I respect June 23rd.

Yet that same consistency means I won’t rely on the deluge of negative official forecasts about BREXIT to inform and justify my position. Prepared as I was to part-company with the Treasury and the IMF when voting in 2014, I’d be more than somewhat hypocritical was I to base and justify my 2016 vote on those self-same organisations and their peers. To put it even more boldly/naively, I don’t like “the markets” or “the powers that be” telling people what they should or should not, can or cannot do.

This is not to renounce the decision on the grounds that it’s “too hard” or advocate for ignorance, alleging “they’re all at it”. That some are biased towards the status quo or reliant on dubious assumptions and others just plain inaccurate does not mean that none can be trusted. As with 2014 there are risks and uncertainties with both sides, and whilst disclaimer yes, I interpret the balance of these in favour of remain, I think the EUref is a bigger question than simply a bewildering array of cost/benefit analyses.

The key for me has been to treat it not as a consumer but rather as a citizen whose definition of quality of life is broader than GDP alone, and who reads the debate as more than 3million jobs versus £350million. I am contemptuous of those Remainers’ that would dismiss the fears of people with precarious, poorly paying jobs in struggling non-metropolitan parts of the country who have alighted upon the EU and immigration as the cause of their very real problems and anxieties.

It saddens me when they are offered vague, abstract to the point of irrelevant pledges in response to their very real problems. I understand why talk of abolishing mobile roaming charges (tangible but not essential) or European peace (essential but in a way intangible) leave them thinking “is that it?” While talk of shared prosperity rings more hollow than true leaving people with the thought they cannot lose that in which they do not share. Alas the tone of the national campaign has tended more to “remain…or else” rather than “Britain is Stronger in Europe because…”

But speaking of tone I am incensed by those who whip fears into frenzy and augment them with baseless allegations and false solutions, which they then play upon for (personal) political advantage regardless of the costs. And that was before the shocking events of last Thursday not that far from where I sit and write this just now in Leeds. It’s probably wrong to reduce EUref – a historic decision – to partisan politics and personalities, but on the basis of their choice (and remember it was their deliberate choice) of campaign’s tone and content, I don’t want to “take back control” only to hand it to Leave et al.

To be clear there are honourable people who having read the risks and uncertainties differently, will vote leave, with sincerely held views and positive hopes. But if the UK votes leave on June 23rd it won’t be those people or their honestly held convictions who win. Leave’s occasional protestations that leaving the EU is about turning towards the wider world and away from the institution not the continent or its peoples, have seemed an afterthought rather than foundation. As such I don’t like the vision of Britain that Leave offer and genuinely worry who’ll they’ll turn on when they’re unable to implement it (win or lose).

For all the flaws of Remain and their rerun of Project Fear I’m far more alarmed by the kind of country Leave want to make Britain and what they’ll do if they win when they discover they cannot. What I’ve heard from them is not that Britain can do better outside Europe, but that Britain is better than Europe and this chauvinism has become ever more pronounced and ugly when directed (disingenuously of course) at those we are apparently better than and better off without.

In 2014, based in part by the way on iScotland taking its place as an equal member of the EU in its own right, I voted for what I believed to be the better prospect, accepting as I did so that independence would be a difficult choice, but steeling myself that the worst result to wake up too was a missed opportunity. In 2016 I am not so sanguine and nor should you be.