I’m more convinced now than in June 2016 that the referendum outcome was the right one

I’m more convinced now than in June 2016 that the referendum outcome was the right one

I am not an economist. I do not run a business. I am not a politician (although I did stand, unsuccessfully, against David Blunkett in 2005). For the past thirty years I have simply been a public-sector employee (teacher/headteacher) who has taken a very genuine interest in national affairs.

Along with another 17.4 million people, I voted in favour of leaving the EU last June. It was not an automatic decision on my part: knowledge that a considerable chunk of our trade is with Europe, the foreseeable protracted negotiations required to undo the ever closer economic and political European integration of the past forty-plus years, and the realisation that many crucial current issues – international terrorism, people smuggling, environmental issues etc – can only be solved by Europe working closely together, were all weighty arguments for staying.

That said, I felt that all the above could be equally successfully managed through close co-operation rather than formal integration (“in Europe but not run by Europe”; “interested and associated but not absorbed”). I further felt that a freer economy, more suited to the unique demands of the UK, can do much to provide jobs and stimulate growth, both in the UK and across Europe as a whole. I also feel that whilst immigration has brought tremendous talent and an eager workforce to the country, unlimited immigration which has outstripped the jobs, schools, hospitals and housing available, is simply not sustainable or beneficial to anyone. A nation the size of the UK simply cannot support a new city the size of Peterborough (with no disrespect to Peterborough, the final resting place of Catherine of Aragon) year on year. Immigration that is determined by economic need, as opposed to simply open borders, will surely lead to prosperity for all – for those newly arriving and those already living here.

I cannot deny that I was also encouraged to vote Leave by the prevailing uncooperative attitude of the EU leadership. I fully believe that David Cameron went into the negotiations with the best of intentions, and I equally believe that had he come away with some form of associate membership which satisfied many British people’s fears about immigration and ever greater political integration, the referendum result may have been very different. The fact that the EU leadership was not prepared to make any worthwhile concessions said it all: an arrogant and uncompromising clique which was blind to its own unpopularity in a key member state.

Since June 2016, I’ve become even more convinced that the outcome was the right one. I have been irritated  by some “Remainers” who have levelled insults such as that those of us who voted Leave were mistaken and misunderstood the issues (always a patronising line to take in a discussion – you fail to agree with me so you must misunderstand the arguments; if only you understood, you’d agree with me…) or that older people have let down the younger generation (by “older people” I assume they mean those who have worked hard, obeyed the law, paid their taxes and possibly also fought for the country?), whilst others have suggested that we should perhaps have a second referendum. Would Remainers have called for a second referendum if the result had, as they expected, been the other way around?

Then there was the obfuscation over precisely how much Britain does actually pay each week to be a member of the EU. Some of those who shouted loudest saying the Leave campaign had been, at best, economical with the truth over the figures, were the same politicians who had campaigned against university tuition fees, only to vote in favour once they had gained power. These arguments, however, pale into insignificance when compared to the latest insults from the EU leadership – that Britain should remember its “obligations” to Europe. No unelected bureaucrat has the right to level such a charge. We have been honouring our obligations by paying our membership fees since 1973, even paying far too much until Mrs Thatcher negotiated the initial rebate.

What about the EU’s obligation to us, for the all the money we’ve contributed to support infrastructure development throughout the EU? Will this be reimbursed? What about the EU’s obligation not to waste taxpayers’ money through an inflated bureaucracy or the monthly schlep between Brussels and Strasbourg? You only have to walk around any community in Britain, even the smallest village, to see the physical reminders that Britain has been fully aware of its commitment to Europe over the past one hundred years.

David Davis, Liam Fox and the rest of the team involved with the negotiations clearly have a difficult dialogue on their hands. They have been accused of not having a clear set of aims, or, on the other hand, of being too dogmatic. At the end of the day, however, they are trying to “negotiate”: it’s supposed to be a compromise. But what our team must not do is lose sight of two fundamental issues: the maintenance of free trade and control of our national borders. If we do not succeed in getting these requirements, then there would seem to be little point in the negotiations. These two points should actually please everyone in Europe (but not in the EU): satisfy British fears over border security whilst also allowing the rest of Europe to trade freely with us. The management and workforce of Audi, BMW, VW etc are not interested in settlement payments or the primacy of directives any more than the management and workforce of British firms, but they are all equally interested in trade and employment. The popular maxim, “Love Europe, Hate the EU”, encapsulates it nicely.

Herein, however, lies the real sticking point. Sadly, the current negotiations are not with the people who really matter – the leaders and true representatives of the people of Europe. Rather, David Davis and his team are having to deal with the delegates of an artificial, abstract, political construct which does not have a mandate from the people of Europe. Their goal is not to create jobs or to improve the standard of living, it is to preserve the artificial EU (i.e. their goal is not the development of the economies or peoples of Europe). I sincerely hope that the negotiations do succeed, but if they don’t, then no deal is certainly an option. The outcome of no deal would be even more protracted bilateral negotiations with each of the member states, but at least we should be dealing with representatives who actively want to trade and work with Britain, not with faceless bureaucrats who want to punish us for escaping the political constraints of the EU.

There is no doubt that there are uncertain and choppy waters ahead, whichever way the negotiations go. But let’s be determined, upbeat and positive, not timid and pusillanimous. Churchill promised “blood, sweat, toil and tears”; he did not say, “the outcome is going to be difficult and uncertain, so let’s quit”. In 1776 the forefathers of the USA did not say, “The Navigation Acts [which controlled the colonies’ trade in Britain’s interests] aren’t ideal, but let’s stick with them regardless”. In 1963 the leaders of the new, independent Singapore didn’t say, “We aren’t brave enough to shake off British colonial rule as we don’t know what might happen. Perhaps our economy will fail?”

Those who take a dystopian view of Britain post-Brexit, or who sneer at those trying to make the discussions work (and how easy it is for ex-politicians to sneer when they no longer have either responsibility or public accountability) will perhaps feel I’m approaching the debate from the point of view of some romanticised, Arcadian idyll. On the contrary, I feel we should approach the issue from the exciting, forward-looking Blakean vision of a better and brighter future – a more dynamic and enterprising economy, more jobs, more trade and more tax revenue to fund first-class health, education and social care systems. Democratically-elected politicians have a duty to fight for the best interests of all their citizens (as well as a moral duty to work with and support other countries) but such views are anathema and perhaps even incomprehensible to the unrepresentative mandarins of the EU.