Monthly Archives: July 2016

My journey through the Brexit referendum

I was not going to write down my views post the referendum, but I have felt deeply affected by the outcome and just need to get it out of my system. I would normally keep my voting preferences private.

As a young chap I voted in the 1975 referendum to remain in the European Communities. The issue from the then Labour Government’s point of view was mainly that the Common Agricultural Policy kept food prices too high, though they had ideological issues too. The Government thought its renegotiation was largely successful. I thought that access to a free market close by at a difficult time for trade in Britain was what the country needed.

By the Eighties our membership contributions seemed to be getting a bit pricey. I became more Eurosceptic, though I am not sure the term had been invented then. In 1984 Margaret thatcher negotiated a rebate, which is still in force today. There are a lot of figures bandied about as to what the UK contribution is today, but it is probably not much more than around £200M a week (or at least it was pre-June 2016), about one-tenth of the budget for the NHS. Actually, I still think Maggie’s deal was pretty good and has stood up well in over thirty years.

This is not supposed to be a history of the UK in the EU. There was a lot of anguish in the Conservative Party over John Major’s “bastards” who opposed the UK signing up to the Maastricht Treaty which did sow the seeds for future monetary and probably political union. I became most Eurosceptic then. Teresa Gorman was one to whom Major was referring and one day she was signing copies of her book The Bastards when I went into W H Smith in Liverpool Street station to buy a magazine. She spotted me, possibly feeling lonely, and offered me one of her books. I told her I had bought a copy the week before and produced it from my briefcase. She signed it for me. She would probably not have appreciated a comparison to Edward Heath, of whom it was said that un-autographed books were rarer than the ones he had signed, so desperate was he to get his books out there.

I digress. Fast forward to 2016. In February David Cameron negotiated a “deal” with the other EU member states. He then called the referendum. I thought the deal meant very little and was purely cosmetic. The UK would avoid Euro bailouts and would not be drawn into closer political union with other countries which aspired to this.

The deal on immigration and benefits was meaningless as a deterrent to prospective EU immigrants. I tried to explain to a number of people before the referendum that immigration was likely to be largely unaffected by the UK leaving the EU, assuming there would be stability in the UK economy. People would still want to come, EU citizens in work already contribute their skills and also a lot of tax to the Exchequer. We need them and will still need them. As regards non-EU immigration, the issue and the problem is unchanged. The sub-Saharan conflicts have been going on for years and the Syrian disaster was unforeseen. In or out of the EU we have to try to cope, and have compassion.

As a Eurosceptic, I examined every argument carefully. The campaigns, Leave and Remain, made some outrageous claims; for example, Leave about the cost of membership. The Remain side operated Project Fear, concentrating on negatives rather than the positive reasons for staying in the EU, which are actually the single market and the freedom of movement, even if the latter might have been marginally hampered by the “deal”. In my view, David Cameron’s threat to state pensioners present and future was a grave error as was George Osborne’s “Emergency Budget” warning. People do not like to be threatened or ordered about and will tend to do the opposite.

Remain could well have done without wheeling out Gordon Brown, an irascible type held by many responsible, at least in part for the 2008 crash damage, because he borrowed too much. Alan Johnson, his former Labour colleague, was a much better performer.

We could have done without the interventions of Jean-Claude Juncker, who is like Gordon Brown on the sauce.

Nevertheless, with all this Project Fear noise and claims that economic life outside the EU would be great, there was precious little additional information. I supposed that the Leave campaigners would have sounded out various countries with whom they wanted trade deals. I thought there must be a plan, but we never heard it.

I had to vote on what I knew. Our economic stability was based on relative certainty with regard to our European partnerships, as well as taking the medicine some EU countries had refused to take, notably France. It was based on confidence that we knew the road ahead.

I made my decision quite late.

I decided that we were better off with the devils we knew that those we had not even met yet, so I voted with the status quo. I did not have that positive feeling, because the EU has so many faults. It is unwieldy, and although in a way democratic, it is slow to act when some states go it alone on factors such as immigration. That means strong leaders like Angela Merkel (whom I sort of admire) can go off on their own and present policies as a fait accompli before anyone else has reacted.

So where are we now?

  • The pound has gone south
  • The cost of petrol and diesel, bought in dollars, will go up.
  • The price of food will go up because of the fuel costs and tariffs.
  • People’s incomes will be squeezed.
  • Less confidence means fewer jobs
  • Fewer foreign businesses will set up in UK
  • There will be fewer start-ups except among those forced because they have lost their jobs
  • There will be more austerity medicine because of the loss of tax revenue and the increase in the UK’s deficit, the difference between what the Government receives in and what it needs to spend.
  • My pension fund value has gone south and at my age it matters.
  • There was no plan and I have shed tears – really.

Our economic prospects have been set back years and unlike with a General Election we cannot vote to make another change in five years’ time. No one knows what the UK will be like in five years’ time, and whether it will still be united or down to three countries. We fell off the wall.

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.