I was a devout Remainer in 2016, but am now enthused by the opportunities of Brexit

I was a devout Remainer in 2016, but am now enthused by the opportunities of Brexit

Devastated. Absolutely heartbroken. I will never forget it. That sombre walk to work on the morning of 24th June 2016 and the furious discussions that I had with people that day. Continuous mourning into the weekend, and the apprehension and genuine fury at the prospect of seeing my Leave-voting grandparents for dinner that Sunday night.

Quite how I had got myself so hysterical, I am not so sure. I wasn’t exactly the most passionate advocate of the EU prior to the vote – and I wasn’t even that clued up on the detailed workings of the political union. I had voted Remain primarily based on values: I liked what it stood for – its aims of liberalism, globalism and international cooperation resonated with me.

I admired other European countries and the progress that they had made on issues that I cared so passionately about. From drug reform in Portugal to gender equality in Sweden, I admired their work and I saw sharing our decision-making powers with them as nothing but a benefit.

The EU had its flaws, of course, but on balance I felt it better to be reforming on the inside with a guaranteed seat at the table. Besides, leaving would no doubt cause disruption to several sectors, including my own, so why bother taking the risk or rocking the boat? I simply hadn’t been sold on any of the arguments for Leaving. Either that, or I chose not to listen to them.

I was so convinced that I was right. Convinced that my argument was the only option; that something bad would inevitably follow if we went down the Brexit path.

I can see now my own youthful naivety and plain blissful ignorance. I didn’t know many people who voted Leave – and for those few that I did come across, I was so set in my own echo chamber that I wasn’t willing to enter into the debate with any real sincerity.

Two years, however – particularly at my age – can be plenty of time to challenge one’s mindset. Moving from a predominantly left-wing organisation (a students’ union) to more right-wing surroundings (working for a Conservative MP) naturally did wonders in giving me the opportunity to engage with a side of the argument that I hadn’t done previously. I was presented with viewpoints that before I had been so quick to dismiss. I heard arguments that I hadn’t even bothered to consider before my vote was cast.

In my fear of the potential disruption to sectors such as higher education and finance, I hadn’t even thought about the potential benefit to those in our farming or fishing communities.

In all of my pride of being “internationalist”, I hadn’t even thought about the fact that preferential treatment for one continent inevitably discriminates against all of the others. Or that higher tariffs are applied to those countries which most need assistance in lifting themselves out of poverty.

And if I am totally honest, whether it be through lack of information, naivety or just plain ignorance, the very real future of the EU superstate had completely passed me by.

But ultimately, what I thought and how I felt is largely irrelevant now. For we live in a democracy, and my vote and my voice counts just as much as anybody else’s.

Nobody was “tricked”. Nobody had more of a stake in the outcome than anyone else. And nothing has done more to push me further away from the Remain side of the argument than those who cannot give their fellow citizens the decency of respecting the validity of their views.

Above all, I’m an optimist, and now that we are over two years down the line, I see nothing but opportunities.

An opportunity to take a step back as a nation: evaluate who we are, where we are going and to refresh and renew our relationships around the world.

An opportunity to re-engage with our former colonies, to clear through the wreckage of the past and to finally become equal partners and hopeful friends.

An opportunity to review decades-old legislation, outdated in almost every single area of our lives – whether that be our education system or our employment laws, our welfare state or our prisons.

It’s a time for us to own our history, shape our identity and to re-take our place in the world – with neither arrogance nor guilt. A nation renewed, confident and humble. A nation that listens to the views of its citizens at home and is optimistic for the positive impact that it can have abroad.

On 29th March next year, we will be leaving the European Union. There is a bright future ahead for us, should we decide to grab it.