Simranjeet Riyat, an equity research analyst who is also working on groundbreaking tech to treat dementia and anxiety, explains his current views of his Leave vote two years on.
Just over two years ago, I reluctantly made the decision to vote for Britain to leave the European Union. I have regretted that decision severely.
I’m a 22-year-old adult, I need to take responsibility for my actions and admit I was wrong. Hopefully, inside this article, you’ll have a full accounting of my thought process during the referendum, why I changed my mind and what I believe Britain and the European Union must do, moving forward, to heal the divisions caused by the process.
Before I expand any further, I want to emphasise a crucial point. I am not a xenophobe, nor am I someone who subscribes to the nauseating phenomenon of nascent populism that has emerged globally within the last 4 years. I am a First generation immigrant, born in East London to parents who migrated from India in the early 1990s. I grew up with many friends of different backgrounds. I take pride in a diverse Britain. I am emphasising this because I will commonly be referring to the principle of ‘possibility’ in regards to Brexit. I have talked to people who are xenophobic and/or populists. This crucial sentiment of ‘possibility’ is important to understand how disparate the Brexit supporting coalition at the time was.
When the referendum campaign began, I started off as a reluctant Remain supporter. I was reasonably satisfied with the renegotiations that the Cameron ministry had secured with the European Union, however, I had no affection for the bureaucracy that ran the commission. Like most people in the U.K., we were constantly being told about the inefficiencies within Brussels and the occasional ECJ ruling that may be antithetical towards British interests. The commission was never our friend, rather a group of technocrats (or Eurocrats as was a common saying) that seemed determined at all opportunities to hinder innovation.
At the approximate time of the referendum, the EU was not doing well. It was plagued by lethargic economic growth and seemed to hobble from one political and economic crisis to the next. The EU-Canadian free trade deal seemed to take an excruciatingly long time to conclude due to some holdovers within smaller countries. However, I knew that staying within the economic block, of which we had been a part of for 41 years, seemed like the sensible thing to do.
Now, before I get onto what was the main catalyst for me changing my vote I think I should at least provide an additional bit of context. I was best friends at the time with an ardent Leave supporter. His main claim to leave was regarding the argument of sovereignty. He specifically said that he didn’t care about the economic damage it would cause. We had several long discussions about Brexit and its philosophy. His passionate conviction to leave was much stronger than my tepid desire to remain and I slowly started sympathising to his views. Now, we are no longer on talking terms, let alone friends, having fallen out over something completely unrelated to Brexit.
What ultimately made me change my mind, was a debate held by my university where Anne Milton was hosting, whilst Anna Soubry🗳️ faced off against Douglas Carswell🗳️. Throughout the debate, I was thoroughly unimpressed with Ms. Soubry’s arguments to remain. She started off by talking about the Second World War and recycling the most negative talking points from the Remain campaign. Mr. Carswell, however, provided an extremely optimistic picture of Britain post-European Union. He emphasised how we would be able to immediately secure a free trade agreement with the European Union whilst being free to pursue Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) at our own prerogative. Which meant we could enter into an FTA with the United States, ASEAN, potentially enter the TPP. Whilst keeping the existing trade relationship with the EU. We would have immigration from across the world of workers who were diverse but now highly skilled. Essentially it was global Britain.
The idea was incredibly appealing to me at the time. This is now where I hark back to the theme of possibility. For me, Brexit was the opportunity to have more globalism, more free trade, to integrate ourselves further within the global economy. I imagined a Britain with even more immigration from workers in the fields of science, technology, art, finance. With my finance and technology background, I imagined it would be easier to do business with countries across the globe. At the same time, we would remove ourselves from the bureaucracy of the ‘unelected cabal’ of the European Commission. Europe was a mess, its prospects at the time seemed dim. We were part of a quasi-federation which didn’t know whether it wanted to be a Superstate or an economic union.
Mr. Carswell also raised two questions which I erroneously subscribed too:
1. Would you vote to join the European Union today if we weren’t part of it, based on how different it has become since 1975?
2. Why does Europe not have its own Silicon Valley?
That debate and those two questions were enough for me to change my mind. So four weeks later, I voted to leave. The polls were deadlocked, so I had no idea what to expect, though I had reasonable hope my side would win. Lo and behold we did.
In the ensuing months, it seemed that I had made the right choice for the most part. The country had a cabinet that seemed to want to deliver a Brexit that was essentially global Britain. The EU-Canada free trade deal teetered on the verge of collapse because the parliament of Wallonia remained intransigent on it. Donald Trump was elected President, he promised that Britain would be “front of the queue” for any FTA.
For the first few months this made Brexit seem like a boon for the country, and then it all changed…
My vision of Brexit clearly was not the vision of Brexit that others shared. Where I wanted free trade, others wanted protectionism. Where I wanted more immigration, others wanted nativism. Where I wanted cooperation with the European Union, others wanted hostility. The rise in racist incidents were extremely troubling, giving light to a more ugly side within our society.
The European Union will naturally need to protect their own interests, to expect them to capitulate towards all of our demands would have been fanciful. Like I mentioned before, immigration was not a concern for me, the volume of data supported claims that EU immigration was beneficial to the country.
It took me until roughly this time last year to realise that what I had voted for was not going to be delivered. I felt I had been lied to. Plain and simple. Or perhaps I hadn’t been lied to, rather I had simply voted for something neither I nor anyone truly knew. Once more I talk about the possibility, for me, I saw the opportunity to transform the UK into a further services economy, based on finance, technology, and entertainment. For others, it was a chance to double down on an outdated products market, restore dangerous tariffs and impose a foreboding and xenophobic immigration system. Often the refrain of “Get rid of the foreigners” was said.
I also realised the answer to one of Mr. Carswell’s questions: that Europe doesn’t have one singular Silicon Valley... it has multiple smaller ones.
As the negotiation process drew on, I did not anticipate the complete incompetence of Her Majesty’s Government in negotiating with itself on its ideal of Brexit and then carrying that over to the European Union. We now stand on the precipice of crashing out of the European Union and reverting back to archaic World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
The fact is plain and simple, the reality has changed. Leaving is now the de-facto position of the government. They will have no deal. Leaving without any agreement and the economic impact it would have was never part of the Leave platform. The cabal of hard Brexiteers in parliament, the European Research Group (ERG) and their amendments have essentially made it such that the EU will reject a deal due to the asinine nature of their demands. Even if by happenstance an arrangement could be arranged, it would inevitably be tantamount to colonial status giving us one of the worst possible arrangement for Britain’s future, save for leaving without any arrangement.
Once again, this was not remotely close to what I voted for. If I had known the outcome we were heading towards, I would have voted emphatically to remain. With my work in finance and technology, with what I want to do. Leaving the United Kingdom to pursue my efforts, would be more preferable than living within the confines of an isolated island that inflicted no-deal upon itself by its government.
So, now, I believe that as the terms of our departure from the European Union are becoming clearer it is time for us to have a referendum on the final deal: as a nation do we truly want to leave our political and economic partners for the void of uncertainty?
Earlier, I mentioned one question Mr. Carswell asked, “Would you vote to join the European Union today, based on how different it is when we joined?” That question, I realise now, was irrelevant because joining a political union is vastly different from staying part of one. So, now, I’d like to ask the question: Would you vote to leave the European Union today based on how different the circumstances are to when you voted to leave in 2016? For me and many others, I suspect that the answer would be NO.
I know that to suggest a referendum will be billed as heresy to the democratic principles we pride ourselves on in the West. However, the notion that the ‘will of the people’ is immutable as they learn more information is preposterous, arrogant and dangerous. Was it a betrayal of the will of the people to hold the 2016 referendum when the people had chosen by an overwhelming margin to remain in 1975? Was it a betrayal of the will of the people to suggest that in the event of a Remain victory, Leave groups would continue campaigning for a withdrawal? Is it a betrayal of the will of the people, now that polls show the people would prefer a referendum, to hold one?
We must resist the overwhelming noise from the likes of Nigel Farage🗳️ or Jacob Rees-Mogg🗳️. Whilst I can admire their conviction in doing what they earnestly believe, they are simply wrong in what a hard Brexit will entail. In truth, their ideal version of Brexit will cause undue harm. When Mr. Rees-Mogg says we may not realise the potential of Brexit for 50 years he says this because he is indifferent to the damage it will cause the public. Mr. Mogg and the likes of the ERG will be fine, we in the public will not.
I would go so far to argue that if they succeed in their efforts, in establishing a hard no deal Brexit. Mr. Farage, Rees-Mogg and the hard Brexiteers will have succeeded in doing what General Bonaparte or Kaiser Wilhelm II or any of Britain’s historical enemies had failed to do. They would have subjugated Britain and damaged it irreparably.
No one should feel ashamed to change their minds. Most people that voted for Brexit did so because they legitimately felt that they were improving the future of Britain. Instead of animosity, a reasonable dialogue should be made for people such as myself that evolved their position and the millions that are on the fence about it now.
A referendum will most likely be a close affair. I believe that Brexit did have one advantage, it laid bare the soul of this nation and of the European Union. The European Union has echoed repeatedly that we could cancel this entire sordid affair and resume like business as usual. The truth is, in the event of remaining, we won’t have fully resolved the longstanding issues that led us to initially leave, neither will it solve the ascendency of populism in European Union’s constituent states.
We must do more. We must reform Europe…
In the event of remaining, Britain needs to take a leading role within the European project. No more half in and half out uncertainty. We must fix the problems that we have within Europe, instead of cowering behind exemptions we must see further integration as the opportunity to shape the destiny of Europe. In the most recent meeting between European heads of states, Chancellor Merkel praised our contribution, lamenting her regret that we were leaving. Prime Minister Rutte of the Netherlands has expressed a similar sentiment regarding our departure. We have proven that when we have a vested interest in Europe, when we care about the direction of this Union, we can push in a direction that aligns with our interests and values.
I’d like to state that if there was any political party that most aligned with my views, it would be the Freie Demokratische Partei, or Free Democratic Party (FDP), in Germany. I truly believe that by employing the values of classical liberalism to maximise social and economic liberty, our peoples will be given the opportunity to succeed based upon their merit. This could be a model for a reformed European Union.
The most pressing change we can fix is that of the European Commission, we have within our power to make the President of Europe an elected position. Conceivably, we may one day have a candidate from Île-de-France against a candidate from Bavaria debate in front of a studio audience in Warsaw in English.
To become more efficient and for the European Union to reach the aspirations of its citizens we must seriously consider fully integrating. We cannot allow the European Union to remain this quasi-state. If I was ever privileged enough to talk with Président Macron, I’m sure he and the movement he started would be the most receptive to transforming the European Union.
To list every conceivable reform would take too long. So I’ll end with this. The European Union has improved the lives of its citizens through being part of it. The aspirations of its people depend on living within a system that can respond to its needs. We must integrate more to thrive, where we can together create a Union that can set an example across Earth to promote our sacred values of liberty and rule of law to provide justice and tranquillity for all.🔷
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(This piece was originally published on Medium.)