“Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.” (Oliver Hardy)
Sounds familiar? Did any of us realise just how difficult, how complicated and how potentially damaging Brexit is turning out to be?
The British people voted on a simple Yes/No question to a hugely complex issue, with access to very few facts. A total of 37 per cent of us voted leave, 35 per cent voted remain and 28 per cent didn’t vote at all. EU citizens in Britain and many UK nationals abroad were denied a vote while 16 and 17-year-olds were allowed to vote in the Scottish referendum, but not in the EU one.
A pretty inconclusive result is a very poor basis to make such huge changes to our country forever. The will of the people? Hardly.
For many people, the promise of £350 million a week being freed up for the NHS if we left the EU was a compelling argument. As was standing independent in the world, free of outside interference. Sadly, neither is true. The wheels are fast coming off that famous red Brexit bus with the false promise of NHS money on the side, and it’s heading towards a cliff edge. Our negotiating team are embarrassingly inadequate, with little progress made in the past year-and-a-half.
It now looks as if we will pay something over £53 billion to honour the commitments we have made - money that could better be spent on our NHS, housing and schools. And almost all economists and business leaders warn that to leave without a deal would be a total disaster for trade, jobs and living standards.
We live in an interconnected world, and as part of the European Union we have over 40 years of laws and treaties jointly made that need to be unpicked. This means 759 treaties with over 100 countries will now need to be individually negotiated - a hugely unnecessary waste of time, money and energy.
As for sovereignty, currently only 13 per cent of UK law has anything to do with the EU, and it is usually things we want, like clean beaches and environmental protection. The irony is we now have a seat at the top table as one of the three major players in the EU, alongside France and Germany. Our days of Empire are long past, and by leaving the EU we risk becoming an insignificant little island with far less influence in the world. The USA, under the volatile President Trump, has made it clear we are far from a priority.
We are giving away control - not taking it back!
“Don't it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone.” (Joni Mitchell)
As a country, the UK has been very bad at celebrating what benefits we get as members of the European Union. We take for granted cheap flights to Europe, reciprocal healthcare with 27 other countries, and the ability to live, work, study or retire in any of the member countries with ease. All that will change.
EU funding helped create St. Paul’s Learning and Family Centre, for example, gave 60 million euros to finance research grants at our local universities, and the European Social Fund helps get young people, and disadvantaged older people into work. We lose all of this if we leave.
Bristol is a city that has hugely benefitted from EU migration. The hardworking, polite Spanish or Polish bar staff you met last night are probably completing their studies at Bristol University or UWE, paying taxes here and helping make our city such a vibrant, interesting place to live. The NHS in Bristol employs over 1,200 qualified and dedicated staff from all over Europe, and would collapse without their input. Airbus says that in the event of a hard Brexit, 4,000 jobs at Filton could go as operations move to mainland Europe.
We all want what is best for our country, and many leave voters thought they were doing just that. However, the leave vote has sadly given licence to a vocal minority to abuse anyone who is “different” with shouts of “go home” to people who have been living here happily for decades.
We, in Bristol for Europe, hear such sad stories from EU nationals who now feel unwelcome and are thinking of leaving the country, depriving Bristol of valuable colleagues in health, Higher Education and other jobs that contribute to our success as a city. This is sadly not the friendly, welcoming, accepting country it used to be.
So, where are we now?
The outlook is pretty grim. Since June 2016, more than 10,000 staff in the NHS from other European countries have left, the pound has lost value hugely against other currencies making imports much more costly, major businesses are planning to move abroad with subsequent loss of UK jobs, we will lose the Open Skies agreement which allows cheap flights, and fruit and vegetables are rotting in the fields due to the exodus of EU workers.
The Irish border between the Republic and Northern Ireland looks like an insoluble issue. Any attempt at a “hard” border risks unsettling the hard-won fragile peace process, and there are no easy answers.
The government has been reluctant to release 58 impact assessment studies on the effects of Brexit. They have been partly released with huge chunks crossed out. If it’s such good news, why hide it?
New polling shows the tide is turning. Now we know so much more about the impact of Brexit, 47 per cent think we should stay in the EU, against 42 per cent who still favour Brexit. But 66 per cent think the government is handling the negotiations badly.
But, we CAN change our minds with this new information. Article 50 is revocable right up to March 2019, according to Lord Kerr, who wrote it. There is mounting pressure for a meaningful vote in parliament, and letting people have a say on the final deal, whether to accept it or stay as a member of the EU, changing it from within.
It’s time to reflect. Time to think again. Do you want your country back?
This article appeared in the Bristol Post the first week of December in the section known as Speakers' Corner. It was written by John Windsor, and officer of Bristol for Europe