This website is primarily designed to support my writing but I am also human and I have opinions that range over a wide area so I hope you'll consider indulging me as I talk about something that has been taking up a great deal of my time recently, Britain's impending withdrawal from the European Union colloquially referred to as Brexit.
I was one of the 48% of those who voted to Remain and, though I sometimes have despaired of some of the things said by those of the EU side, I am still a Remainer. I want to stress that I am, in political and economic terms, a relative "know nothing" yet, like everyone else who voted, I was asked to become a politician, a diplomat and an economic specialist for one day. Of course, I, like most others, couldn't become that but I did do some research and, very briefly, I voted remain for the following reasons:
Money: In personal finance terms, I felt Brexit wouldn't make a great deal of difference to me, I'd still get paid and I only had some 7 years to go until I retired. It turns out I was wrong, uncertainties over Brexit affected my company and I was made redundant and, at my age, I couldn't find a reasonably paid job so a year later I retired to run an occasional home computer support business and to write.
Britain being "leaner and meaner": It clearly meant someone, somewhere was going to have to tighten their financial belts and it clearly wasn't going to be the CEOs, the managers or the generally rich and wealthy, it was going to be ordinary workers like me.
Immigration: The media has flamed the xenophobic and nationalistic nature of many Britons and not only am I not concerned by immigration, I recognise that skilled, trained workers from abroad are something an advancing nation needs. And besides, we have been invaded and occupied so many times in the past, are we not simply a nation of immigrants? And declaring immigrants, gays or other ethnic groups as "them" OR saying "they" should go back home is but one step short of declaring them sub-human (or "Untermensch" as they were pre-WW2 in Germany).
Cooperation: Human beings do better things in cooperation for example in science and the combined effort of "ordinary" jobbing scientists has advanced us far more than any of the geniuses in our past.
War: There hasn't been a single conflict in the Eurozone since the end of WW2 which is significant in a region rife with war before that point and the reason appears simply to a better standard of living and that we have the EU, a forum to talk out our problems instead of fighting.
Last week, following a number of standard mails to my MP (Helen Whately), I received the following email:
Thank you for contacting me about the campaign for a second referendum on the UK's withdrawal from the EU.
We have already had a people's vote on the EU on 23 June 2016, in which a majority voted to leave. It is right that the Government respects this decision and is taking us out of the EU. I am backing the Prime Minister to get on with the job and secure a good deal to take us out of the EU; a deal which honours the referendum result by taking us out of the EU's institutions while protecting jobs and the economy. I intend to vote for a future relationship along these lines.
You raised concerns about whether people knew what they were voting for. Before the 2016 referendum, the Government sent out a leaflet to all households which set out the risks and consequences of exiting the EU. I am satisfied that people knew what a vote to leave meant, and so I don't support rerunning the referendum on these grounds.
I appreciate that you will find this disappointing, however I view my role as an MP to make sure that leaving the EU works for the constituency and the country. That's why I'm focussing on the task ahead of us, rather than revisiting the arguments of 2016.
I hope that this response is useful, and if there is anything further you think I can do to help, please do not hesitate to get back in touch.
Being me, of course, I wasn't satisfied with that response and responded as follows:
Thank you for your recent email, as you might expect I have a number of comments.
I am, of course, well aware that we have already had a vote on the issue of EU membership but to simply state the obvious ("We have already had a people's vote on the EU on 23 June 2016, in which a majority voted to leave. It is right that the Government respects this decision and is taking us out of the EU.") raises a number of issues.
Firstly, as I am sure you are aware, all British referendums are advisory in legal terms. Secondly, your statement appears little more than a politicised version of the Leaver's "you lost, get over it" which is pretty insulting on every level. Thirdly, I am forced to wonder if the people of Swale elected you to simply follow the dictates of your party (as every response I've had from you implies you do) or to act in their, and the nation's, best interests. Fourthly, had the suffragettes done the same back in the nineteenth century when their demands for the vote were first rejected, women would not have the vote now and, were we to consider that from a point even further back in time, I wonder if only land-owning gentry would have the vote.
Two years of recession, a 500% increase in casual racism, a spiralling pound, companies that are moving to the EU and others planning to do so in addition to some fairly dire warnings (including up to 800,000 job losses and the possible loss of up to £6000 per family per year). Sales at Jaguar Land Rover have fallen sharply with Brexit one of the factors blamed by the company for the sales fall and the CEO outspoken on the risks to the car industry posed by it. Manufacturing has also had its worst month since the EU referendum with Brexit identified as a significant factor. Law Enforcement Chiefs have warned that the UK will become a less safe place in the event of a no-deal Brexit due to the loss of shared EU information could even lead to some overseas criminals deliberately moving to the UK to avoid arrest. Research by the Institute of Fiscal Studies indicates Brexit will put male manual workers in the UK (those most likely to have voted for it) at "greatest risk".
In short, there is no known Brexit scenario that will give Britain as good a deal as we currently have and, as such, I am curious how you feel any deal that the current administration might make will protect jobs and the economy. The cynical side of me suggests one answer might be that it's "Project Fear", more fear mongering from the Vote Leave campaign (those dratted experts they told us not to pay any mind to)? Despite the "assurances" you have given, it seems clear that Brexit is anything but in our best interests.
You mention the "good deal" the Prime Minister is trying (and clearly struggling) to get yet you may recall some of the things your colleagues have said about the UK and the EU (I list some of them below)? Perhaps your idea of a "good deal" is somewhat different to mine? With that in mind and the difficulties the government has had securing such an "easy" deal, I remain somewhat mystified as to how a deal that takes us out of the European Union (and possibly out of the Customs Union and Single Market) will protect jobs and the economy better than one that keeps us in especially since no one in the current administration can actually agree on what "Leave" actually means. Perhaps you could clarify that seemingly simple question?
Yes, I am aware of the leaflet that was sent round but there was also material sent round by the various campaigns. I read the leaflet, of course, it was perhaps the only legible aspect of the government's pre-referendum campaign however it's worth pointing out that it was somewhat barebones and nowhere near as informative as the one sent round for the 1975 referendum. I suspect that, as someone who actually read, understood and further researched the material in the booklet, I was in the minority. Given that the most searched term on Google post-referendum was, "What is the EU?" I strongly suspect that most did not read it at all, hardly the kind of search one might expect an informed electorate if they actually understood what they were voting for. But deal or no deal, we're going to be OK because we can operate under WTO trading rules, isn't that right? Is it right even though there are something like 7 countries that are prepared to object to our entry into the WTO system, our current membership being via the EU.
Then there are the lies that were told to the electorate pre/post-referendum, lies I am smart enough not to believe without first checking. Here are a few examples I'm sure are familiar to you:
"There will be no downside to Brexit, only a considerable upside" David Davis, 10 October 2016
"The day after we vote to leave, we hold all the cards and we can choose the path we want" Michael Gove, 9 April 2016
"Getting out of the EU can be quick and easy – the UK holds most of the cards" John Redwood, July 17 2016
"The free trade agreement that we will have to do with the European Union should be one of the easiest in human history" Liam Fox, 20 July 2017
"Absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the single market" Daniel Hannan
"We're not really interested in a transition deal, but we'll consider one to be kind to the EU" David Davis
"Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week" Boris Johnson
"Turkey (population 76 million) is joining the EU" Vote Leave
Recent news reports are highlighting that fact that the Leave Campaign cheated and lied with The National Crime Agency investigating allegations of multiple criminal offences by Arron Banks. That has prompted, quite rightly in my opinion, calls from some MPs for the process of departing the European Union to be suspended since the Electoral Commission has said there are reasonable grounds to suspect Banks was "not the true source" of £8m in funding to the Leave.EU campaign.
Leavers argue that the government promised a referendum that would be a once-in-a-lifetime decision, that it would implement whatever the majority voted for and that to break that promise would be a gross betrayal of democracy but to take that stance assumes that what we were told was true and morally above reproach. Nothing could be further from the truth. Why is it not acceptable to break the Brexit democratic promise when it IS acceptable for the Leave campaign to make, and get away with making, all kinds of undeliverable promises such as £350 million extra per week for the NHS? The Brexit that we're likely to get will be an awfully long way from that promised by the Leave Campaign so I'm sure you'll understand my scepticism with respect to your claim that people knew what a vote to leave meant. A good metaphor might be that of buying a house; if you made an offer on a house and then the survey finds that it's full of damp and dry rot, you would be absolutely within your right to withdraw your offer and stay put. Should the same principle not apply to Brexit?
One point your response fails to consider is the demographics of the vote, that the younger half of the population (those likely to be most negatively affected by Brexit) tended heavily towards Remain which suggests the whole exercise may be pointless as they are likely to seek to re-join the EU and the deal will be nowhere near as good as our current one. As a father of two young women, new voters strongly opposed to Brexit, they (like their fellows) have said they will neither forgive those who take them out of Europe which is something those seek longevity in the world of politics should, perhaps, consider.
We live in a new, highly technological world, a world where the media coverage is, at best, questionable. We have a media system that seems comfortable with the obviously ludicrous idea that the informed views of industry experts such as the CEOs of Jaguar or Nissan are somehow "balanced" by those of relative know-nothings such as Nadine Dorries. And the views of Ms Dorries conflict with the views of others in the current administration so much so that one might be tempted to suggest they really don't know as much as they claim to. The Tory Party seems to be ripping itself to pieces with its internal squabbles which, under any other circumstances, could be considered funny but as it stands it's little more than pathetic however it leads me to an important question. Should you not, as our representative in Parliament with something presumed to be more than the average person's understanding of external factors affecting the UK be considering such things carefully and, if necessary, be willing to put the good of the nation ahead of your party's pathetic internal squabbles? Coming from a scientific, evidence led, background I find it perplexing and rather worrying that my representative in Parliament seems only willing to consider following her party's lead with something suspiciously like unquestioning loyalty. Actions resulting from the referendum are viewed as democracy in action but democracy cannot truly exist without good, honest information and politicians that are willing to act responsibly for the good of all in their nation and not simply follow their own interests or the dictates of a specific party.
However, to sum up, it is clear that the leave campaign cheated and lied, it is clear that Brexit cannot supply us with a deal as good as the one we currently have and that any proposed benefits are accepted largely on faith, it is clear that the electorate was largely ignorant and it is clear that we need an informed referendum, a People's Vote.
My best guess is that Mrs Whately won't reply since my email was fairly long but I wait to see if I will be proved right.
Thanks for reading.
J. C Rocks ("The Abyssal Void War" series)