We need to talk about Europe

Like many of my friends, I was shocked by the results of last weeks referendum about Britain’s future in Europe. I spent the majority of the last week feeling angry, let down and increasingly lied-to, as more revelations about the leave campaign’s plan, or lack of it, came to light. But, there’s a kind of catharsis in writing, so I’ve decided to recount some of my thoughts about Brexit here, uninformed as they may be.

An illustrated EU flag in tatters

When I went to bed on Thursday night, Gibraltar had just voted overwhelmingly to remain. No surprises there. My wife Katie, and our daughter, were away for a couple of nights and I’d decided to get an early night without the possibility of being woken by a little voice in the night. When my alarm woke me at six-thirty, I immediately checked my phone. I couldn’t believe it. How could this have happened?

But why should I feel so angry, when only a few weeks ago I couldn’t make up my mind which way to vote? When the referendum was first announced, I’d just assumed I’d vote to remain. I suppose I’m of that generation that doesn’t have a concept of the empire, or Britain being great. I’ve lived all my life in a country who’s best days were supposedly behind it. So being part of Europe, being part of that culture, history and having hope for a united future is incredibly attractive.

But then I listened to the arguments to leave: That we’d be better off by electing our own law-makers; That we’d save £350million a week; That the European Union is on the verge of collapse anyway, and I started to doubt my convictions.

It was only when I started to really think about these claims, and read a little deeper into them did I decide that my gut instincts were right: The EU may be far from perfect, but if these were the sort of lies the leave campaign had to employ in order to persuade me, then, on balance, we’d be better off remaining. In other ways too, staying part of Europe, having a seat at the negotiating table, felt like the better choice to me. I wanted our future to be open, not closed off.

Brexit fallout

The Brexit fallout was swift. Our policy makers quickly fell into old patterns of in-party fighting and back-stabbing. No one has yet really set out a plan for what we do next beyond a few platitudes designed to reassure, but ultimately saying nothing. I have a horrible feeling that both main parties haven’t a clue what to do next. Even worse still, there seems to be something rotten at the heart of the Conservative party that is yet to come to light. What is clear, though, is that the old party divisions don’t work any more.

The country is divided: “We are the 48%” chant those marching on London in protest at what was ultimately a fair democratic result. “Cry babies” comes the reply from the leave camp. It’s a mess. Darkest of all is the actions of a few who think this result means that half the country just gave them carte blanche to air their bullshit racist rhetoric.

Beyond our borders, it seems that exiting the EU will have little to no effect on migrants entering Britain. And why would it? We’re completely reliant on foreign works to shore-up our essential services. What our exit does is send the wrong message of “You’re not welcome here”. It remains to be seen how this will play out, but we may have just alienated a large group of people we rely upon every day.

Liar, liar

Perhaps the hardest pill for those on both sides of the debate was the way in which our exit was won. It’s abundantly clear that many politicians aren’t above telling bold-faced lies in order to secure a result.

This, for me, is the most unbelievable fact of UK politics. How can it be right for those we’re supposed to trust with governing our lives to openly lie to us? Perhaps I’m misunderstanding the situation, but this seems completely crazy.

Where now?

This whole sorry affair has highlighted some home truths: I’ve never been particularly interested in politics. I never know the policies of those standing in local elections, I just vote based on some loose affiliation with the party my parents support. This is, admittedly, totally unacceptable.

Talking with friends, I was not surprised that many of them feel the same way. I don’t think it’s totally our fault though. The main parties in this country often say roughly the same things. It seems they have old policies that seek to fulfil the goals of the party 30 years ago, but are irrelevant today. No wonder its hard to choose between them.

For my part, and for many friends, Brexit came as a shock. I’m hoping we can use it for positive change in the way we approach those that would seek public office — and our role in electing them. I’m striving to become more informed, and with information comes power to make the right choices for a better future for Britain.