It’s been more than two years now since the EU referendum, when the UK public had the opportunity to vote either to stay or leave the EU. The outcome was shockingly close, with 51.9% voting to leave, and 48.1% to stay; a result which was met with cries to hold a second referendum. Even now, many of the UK public continue with their demands of a revote.
And it’s not all that surprising. We, the public, were given little information as to what it would really mean to go ahead with Brexit and yet were still given the humongous power of making that decision. We got swept up in the arguments of each party whose propaganda flooded our TV screens; the promises of greater control of our borders versus the fear-mongering of the rise in taxes and the impact on trade. These promises and fear-mongering both continue to make headlines, as negotiations with the EU regarding the details of our exit remain ongoing. As the true implications of our decision reveal themselves and as the politicians continue to bash each other for their own amusement.
With the news this week focusing on a speech Boris Johnson made criticising Theresa May’s Brexit plans and her consequent comments regarding the claims covering headlines, it seems to me that politicians are more concerned with their own arguments than informing the public as to what is actually going on. This is no more true than when Scottish Secretary, David Mundell commented “Unfortunately Mr Johnson seems to behave in a way that suggests that he’s only focused on his own self-interests and not on the interests of our country.”
But we have to question whether anyone know what the interests of our country are. The “national interest” which is so frequently mentioned in discussions and speeches. Was it really in the nation’s best interest to vote in a referendum of such magnitude, based on little evidence? And what little evidence and information there was given was twisted to gain votes against the opposing party? Making people vote based on promises that perhaps could never have been kept? Was it in our best interest to run with a bare majority – the Leave party won with 51.9% – when 30% of the nation didn’t even turn out to vote?
These are the big questions we would like to ask the government. Yet, it’s already too late. With our Brexit date set for 29th March next year and, it seems, few agreements yet to be settled in the UK’s negotiations with the EU, I wonder just how much further forward we are than we were two years ago.
The referendum campaigns focused on several areas which they predicted would be the most affected by our deal with the EU; travel and free movement, trade and security. But this view of Brexit is far too simplified, and with headlines today stating medical clinical trials being halted as a result of the upcoming Brexit deal, we really are reminded of how much more complicated it is than the picture that was originally painted. It’s much more than stricter border controls and having to fill out more health forms when you want to jet off to Spain. The deal could have much wider and serious implications for us than was considered prior to the vote.
Bringing this all a little closer to home, Brexit – regardless of the details of the agreement – will have a large impact on our Welsh economy, which receives significantly more structural funding and farming subsidies from the EU than any other UK nation. This funding has also allowed Wales to regenerate several very poor areas and invest in plans for large infrastructure projects to help better our local towns and the public transport systems between them. It is now that such realities are brought into the limelight that we realise just how much being a part of the EU has supported us in Wales, making the long-term implications of this decision all the more uncertain. All this ambiguity is more than a little worrying, for those of us who feel they’ve been misled or keep in the dark.
And of course, some of these points were unavoidable: no country has left the EU single market before. There’s a lot of factors to consider, points for each side of the deal to agree. It was always going to be tricky. So no, the politicians who riled us up ready to vote could never have fully anticipated how Brexit would be met by the EU, but the propaganda certainly produced an idealised view of the process, full of promises which perhaps shouldn’t have been made, because there was no guarantee that they could be kept.
Whatever happens next in the Brexit negotiations and movement, I am sure that it will remain in the public eye as a point of discussion for a long time. And I am sure that we will continue to be met with the phrases “our future is full of promise”, “our best days lie ahead of us” and “putting the national interest first” which don’t really mean a whole lot at all.