Having recently interviewed my pro-Brexit dad (click here for part I) about his views on the whole Brexit mess and why he voted to leave, I thought I should balance it out with the alternative view from a pro-EU member of the family.
But first a brief update – after months of negotiation the UK and the EU agreed a Brexit deal. It comes in two parts:
- A legally binding 585-page withdrawal agreement which sets the terms of the ‘divorce’; and
- A non-legally binding 26-page statement on future relations.
Prime Minister Theresa May then had the job of selling this deal to Parliament, which on initial consideration, satisfied neither the hard or soft Brexiteers, nor the Remainers. MPs were due to vote on the deal on 11th December, but after seeing that it had no chance of getting through Theresa May delayed the vote so she could go back to the EU to try to gain some further concessions. The ensuing outrage resulted in the Prime Minister surviving a vote of no confidence in her leadership of the Conservative Party by 200 to 117. So now it’s back to the negotiating table with the EU.
Like I said, it’s a mess and the chances of the UK leaving at 11pm on 29 March 2019 seems a long way off.
But back to the ‘Remain’ stance. Let me set the scene:
Where – Wivenhoe
Wivenhoe is a lovely fishing town sitting on the estuary of the River Colne in the North East of Essex. It has a population of approximately 8,000 but is growing quickly on account of it being within commuting distance to London and a nice place to live – it was recently in the Sunday Times List as one of the top 12 places to live in the east of England.
The town sits in the borough of Colchester, with 53.6% of the voters opting to leave.
Who – father-in-law
Peter Bather, 73 years old, married to Ro for 49 years and has lived in Wivenhoe for the last 44 years. Like my dad, Pete is interested in world affairs, reads an awful lot and has very definite views on politics.
Over the years he has never switched allegiances between parties (staunch Labour), so it’s fair to say he has a left-wing political ideology.
In summary, educated, knowledgeable, a good life in a nice town and left of centre – but unlike many of his senior peers he bucked the trend and voted in line with the younger generations to stay in the EU.
Let’s find out why in an (almost) unedited Q & A below:
SB: Why did you vote Remain?
PB: I voted to remain because I saw little or no merit in the argument (or lack of) put forward by leavers. The EU, warts and all, was there in detail for all to see, but the idea to quit was supported by nothing more than a foggy wish list. Its only solid view was what people didn’t like; nothing practical about how those grievances could be resolved apart from “let’s just leave”. Especially troubling was the lack of financial credibility to support the idea that by abandoning our closest neighbours and largest market, the EU, we would somehow be in a stronger position, and regain our place in the world as if we still controlled guaranteed sales to the Empire! The difficulties of trying to negotiate new trade deals around the world were dismissed as easy, again with no acknowledgement of how long these arrangements actually take to put in place.
The leave campaign’s emphasis on immigration also worried me. I feel the vast majority of Europeans who come to the UK seem to work hard, pay their taxes and are willing to contribute to society. A good number have made their lives here. The National Health Service, construction, care homes for the needy and the hospitality industry are heavily dependent on EU workers. Yet leavers portrayed them as spongers who were swamping our public services and housing stock. There clearly are problems in some areas but these should have been dealt with by public expenditure on facilities – not our government’s strong point – rather than blaming the incomers who business needed. With the inevitable ebb and flow of national economies some of these problems would resolve themselves. As the situation in Poland, for example, improves, many of its citizens are taking their skills home.
Additionally, leavers spoke of “sweeping away European red tape” as if there was not a soul on the continent who benefited from these rules. The protection afforded to people’s basic employment rights, including maternity provision and disputes resolution through the courts, health and safety in the workplace and beyond, plus checks and maintenance of food and environmental standards should not be dismissed as unnecessary. They were hard won. I’m reminded of a Joni Mitchell song which has a recurring chorus line that goes “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone”!
SB: What are your thoughts on the deal tabled?
Trying to find middle ground in an issue where nobody occupies the middle ground was always doomed to fail. Whether the government can squeeze out more concessions from the EU to make the split more palatable is anyone’s guess, though the EU have said not.
SB: Should it go ahead or be another referendum under any circumstances?
Another referendum may be needed to unblock the parliamentary impasse. However, whichever way people vote a second time, things will continue to move too slowly to heal the divide in the country. The genie is out of the bottle – the blame game is afoot.
SB: Who should be Prime Minister to see us through this mess? (May, Johnson, Rees-Mogg or Corbyn)
The UK needs a statesmanlike politician, an orator, someone who could catch the public imagination and unify the warring sides. None of the above fit that description for me; they are all damaged goods, too aligned with one argument or the other or just ineffective. We will muddle on, our bargaining position further diminished, to a position of international irrelevance and amusement.
SB: What do you think will happen to the EU?
Brexit has helped to destabilise the EU. Voters know what is unpalatable to them but, as a body, seem unable or unwilling to use moderate language and compromise-politics to resolve their differences. The internet age has taught people to expect instant answers to everything when a slow plod is often the only way forward in national politics. Anger is currently the preferred position. Again, it’s easier to look for someone to blame. The EU should survive if it can modify the federalistic dogma of some members.
SB: Can Brexit be successful and what is success?
As it stands, I can’t identify with Brexiteers’ definition of success. That we would willingly distance ourselves from European-based defence, scientific and educational research projects, while reaching out to the isolationist USA for partnership, seems to me the ultimate folly.
Much was made during the Brexit debate about the power of “unelected bureaucrats” over EU policy. Some of this was valid but their edicts were transparent for all to see. Should this situation have brought more concern to the average Brit than the considerable influence on our government of the unelected think-tanks, focus groups, media owners and political donors whose motives are not at all obvious? I think not!
However, my greatest concern is for the UK’s financial and social stability. All parties involved acknowledge that, at least initially, we will be poorer after Brexit, as individuals. But little is said about the inevitable fall in government income and a probable rise in unemployment. Having decimated public services after the financial crash of 2008, with special emphasis on the “undeserving poor”, it seems unlikely any other group would feel the burden of further cuts from this government, unless, this time, pensioners are not immune from being categorised as spongers. Austerity will definitely not be over- for years.
So no, I can’t see any success attached to Brexit, the advantages are illusory and the damage caused incalculable.
So there we go. A little insight into the mind of a remain voter.
Watching this all unfold from the other side of the world, and speaking with friends and family back in the UK, what is most striking is the polarising nature of the issue. Everyone has strong views either way. It’s the best or worst decision the UK has ever taken.
Simon Briggs is a director at Keep Wealth Partners.
Keep Wealth Partners Pty Ltd (AFSL 494858). This information is of a general nature only and may not reflect our views.