A student at the University of Essex and a Green Party member, Gary from Norwich voted Leave in 2016. Considering now that he didn’t know enough to vote one way or the other, he has changed his mind. A Remainer now, he wants a People’s Vote.
Initially, my vote for Britain to leave the EU was simply a reaction to how poorly the government was conducting the negotiations. However, having considered the issue, I have come to appreciate the many and varied ways the UK is enhanced by EU membership.
My decision to vote leave wasn’t particularly influenced by the referendum campaign. I had become so disillusioned by the quality of debate that much of it passed me by. My decision to support Leave was a result of deep-seated ideological influence constructed over many years.
Why did I fall for the narrative spun by eurosceptic politicians and a complicit media — a narrative of a once proud nation, held back by the EU, having ceded its sovereignty? I can’t for the life of me see the appeal of leaving now. I never hated the EU. I felt European.
I was always comfortable describing myself as English, British and European. I certainly never felt superior. Maybe I have put critical distance between myself and the invidious lies about the European Union that fuel euroscepticsm and dislike of the EU.
Was it a sense of nostalgia for a time that once existed, but no longer does? I honestly don’t know now. It is possible that I never fully believed in it and only now do I feel able to articulate my actual views. Whatever it is, I didn’t know enough to vote one way or the other.
The information was out there. I could have listened to Ken Clarke instead of Daniel Hannan. I could have read more widely... no, I should have! But that is all in the past now. I try to understand why people still advocate for Brexit, despite the knowledge of what it means. I thought Remainers needed to show compassion and understanding, that eventually the majority of people would come to their senses when it became clear that Brexit carried significant costs. A smaller economy. Food and medicine shortages. A diminished role in the world.
I thought cold hard evidence would win out and the Leave argument would collapse under the weight of its own incongruity. I now realise that this was misguided. For many the Brexit narrative is so engrained that nothing will budge it. This is the challenge.
To people who might say: ‘Sorry Gary, but I get quite angry at people like you. You should have known better. Your careless vote has put us where we are now,’ I say: that is fine. You are entitled to your opinion and, by God, I have been pretty pissed at myself for quite a while now. However, you should try to understand how an anti-EU narrative that has persisted in Britain over the duration of our membership of the European Union has influenced the way millions voted.
Implying a lack of intelligence or foresight rather underplays the way ideology works is wrong. I still believe there were good faith reasons to vote to Leave, but have come to accept that they were all based on faulty logic. The UK is poorer because of Brexit. Our political system is broken and our politicians, largely incompetent. Yes, we still have borders, and our attitude towards those outside them is an embarrassment to us. My vote to leave was a mistake.
I am not seeking sympathy; just the opportunity to amend my 2016 vote. The way EU nationals have been treated was not inevitable and was/is completely unnecessary. The young have so much to lose from leaving the EU. They will be a major influence on the outcome of a future vote.
I have significantly revised my political views in the last 2.5 years and one major aspect has been a greater focus on environmental issues. I now appreciate that we are much better placed to tackle these issues in a unified response than individually.
I think we now need to make a positive case for Remain, rather than just arguing about the negative consequences of leaving the EU. It is important that we start to listen to each other and, for those with power (i.e. the media), to hold those with influence to account.
The challenge is to overturn 40 years of negative reporting on the European Union. There is a dearth of knowledge about the EU (simply listen to some of James O’Brien’s callers), but people aren’t stupid, they are just misinformed. If they feel attacked, they will double down in their support for Leave.
I am also aware of how abusive many Leavers can be, and I certainly don’t think we should accept abuse. However, if other Leavers are willing to engage in a good faith debate, then we should do what we can to present our strongest case and hope we can change their minds.🔷
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(This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article, with the author’s consent, with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected.)