The compelling ‘take back control’ mantra must be harnessed to bring about long-term political change

The compelling ‘take back control’ mantra must be harnessed to bring about long-term political change

‘But you’re BME?’ That’s what a Labour candidate said to me recently, after I told them that I was standing for the Brexit Party, as we waited to be interviewed for a political show. Although this has been raised with me in various ways on numerous occasions, it always leaves me surprised, albeit slightly amused. There’s an obvious irony to it. However, I do not hold a grudge. In fact, on paper at least, it would indeed seem that I am the ‘quintessential Remain voter’: under 25, university-educated, female, highly mobile, well-travelled etc. But, of course, stereotypes do not capture the nuance and individuality of a person’s worldview. And Brexit, for me, represents the first in a series of steps towards manifesting a new kind of politics.

I never supported Remain. I have supported leaving the EU since I became politically conscious. But my reasons for this have developed and expanded as time has passed. In the beginning, my desire to leave the EU was largely shaped by my upbringing. My mother was a single mum who managed to work three jobs to send me and my sister to fee-paying schools. She is a remarkable woman. She inculcated us with the values of personal responsibility, self-determination and individual liberty. Therefore, the notion of giving my power away, ceding sovereignty and centralising and concentrating power was in exact opposition to the principles with which I grew up.

Fast-forward to the referendum and the Brexiteer rallying cry of ‘Let’s take power back!’ was as inspiring to me as it was compelling.

Now, more than three years since the referendum, we’ve seen our social and political system unravel. We’ve witnessed a systematic attempt to delegitimise the vote by framing Brexit voters in a deeply bitter and unpleasant manner. One of the ways that has particularly stood out to me is the idea that Brexit voters were ‘backwards’ and that the values and principles that dominated the Brexit narrative were motivated by an unjustified and irrational fear of globalisation.

As someone who has lived, worked and travelled across the world, I can confidently say that there are things that matter far more to me than ‘frictionless international travel’. There are values that we have lost or are rapidly losing which are, in fact, fundamental to a strong social fabric and social cohesion: solidarity, community, duty, heritage, ancestry, history, national identity and patriotism. These values speak to a deep human instinct for a sense of belonging which cannot be wished away by a phoney blue flag, national anthem and mass migration.

Not everyone wants to live in a multicultural, transient, metropolitan hub like London; this isn’t necessarily motivated by fear, racism or xenophobia but, instead, a desire to have some control over our nation’s future; a desire to be listened to and valued; a desire to help those at home first – the essence of citizenship. We need to rediscover our sense of self as a nation. We can make a start by having open and honest public conversations about immigration and identity without hurling labels and abuse at one another.

We’ve seen Brexiteers accused of not knowing what they were voting for. But actually, I’ve been stunned by the level of hypocrisy, contradiction and falsehood that have marred many Remain arguments. Dubious claims have been thrown around that have revealed a sharp pessimism about our past, present and future and our ability to self-improve. Let me take a few examples in turn.

Claim 1: ‘The EU protects our rights’
This not only shows a deep lack of faith in the capacity of the British people to do what is right for ourselves, but also completely denies the thousands of people who fought hard and won the rights that we enjoy today such as the Chartists, the Suffragettes and the Labour movement – all predating the formation of the modern EU. We can continue the legacy of these inspirational movements.

Claim 2: ‘The EU has maintained peace in Europe’

Most of the modern institutions of the EU have existed since the 1990s by the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties, decades after WWII. But also, if that argument were true, then why hasn’t America gone to war with Japan again? A more credible argument perhaps lies in democratic peace theory, the shift in the post-war consensus and international trade. This, of course, will continue once we leave the EU.

Claim 3: ‘Global challenges need top-down solutions’
Well perhaps, but also perhaps not? Top-down solutions almost by definition mean simplifying the complex, which leads to greater rigidity and imposition. This has been demonstrated in the EU’s disastrous handling of the Refugee Crisis as opaque and blanket responses are often doomed to fail and lead to resentment and anger. Besides, international cooperation is not and should not be synonymous with an ever-integrating social and political union. Interestingly, there is a strong case to be made that local responses are more effective as they are personalised and specific and can spread organically if they are successful – and be stopped swiftly if they are unsuccessful, unlike top-down responses. Local solutions can empower people to be an active part of the solution, taking individual steps that eventually affect the bigger picture, instead of relying solely on it being dictated from above. In my view, we need decentralisation of power, not the opposite.

Claim 4: ‘The EU is better than Tory austerity’
This is frankly absurd and nonsensical as austerity is integral to the EU’s modus operandi as exemplified in the European Troika’s heavy-handed response to the Greek crisis. The ideological obsession with the concept of the EU has been a cloak against realising the fundamental disconnect between its abstract ideals and its concrete realities. Vision, courage and faith in these Isles have been traded for the thin veneer of a kind of blind pseudo-patriotism, which only proves to further mask the EU’s deep structural failings and questionable ambitions. Even Remain-voting Green Party MEP Majid Majid acknowledged in an article shortly after he became an MEP how he had a ‘baffling realisation’ that ‘next to nobody in Brussels has any clue what the European Union truly stands for — beyond a flag and an anthem — and more crucially, where it is heading. And that includes the EU leaders and senior officials soullessly waddling through the corridors of power… [the] institutions are plagued with convoluted customs, hidden handshakes and backdoor bargaining’. Make of that what you will. It’s OK to sometimes change course – people will only accept a rigged and corrupt status quo for long so.

Brexiteers absolutely knew what they were voting for: to define our own future. To take back control of our laws, trade, borders, economy, tax – only enabled by a clean Brexit. We voted to restore honesty, trust and transparency into our political process. These are not vague principles, they can be manifest in tangible changes, for example by changing our voting system, reforming the House of Lords, reforming our Supreme Court, reforming our education system, negotiating free trade deals, new economic models, creating a new immigration system etc. These aims have not changed and the situation of the past few years has only further highlighted the need to achieve them.

The Brexit vote has exposed the fragility of our democracy, the authoritarian instincts of some, the corruption and complacency, the flagrant disdain for ordinary voters, the disconnect and much else. We need to do some soul-searching as a nation. Where does change happen? From a shift in our individual and collective consciousness or simply through technical solutions from the top-down? Who runs this country? Who should run this country? Who do we want to be? What are our core values? What is the role of government? What does it mean to be British? What does a ‘fair society’ mean and look like? How do we reach it? If our country – a country of some of the world’s greatest thinkers, philosophers and institutions – cannot meaningfully grapple with the questions, then that is a profound and devastating shame.

Mainstream public discourse was not meaningfully asking these questions before 2016, but now we are. The Brexit vote has unleashed a civic revolutionary spirit that can be harnessed to bring about long-term change. Once the Brexit vote is implemented, we need to enter a period of reflection and ask ourselves these fundamental questions. The Brexit Party are the only party that isn’t calling for business as usual and more of the same, but instead, for a better, more prosperous, visionary future with decision-making powers in the hands of the people.