In 2016, I voted for the UK to remain in the European Union. I did so not with a clear conscience, but certain that it was the right thing to do in those circumstances. We all know the result.
The result of the EU referendum was in truth already decided decades ago. The UK has always had a poor relationship with its neighbours, and with so many years of forceful anti-immigrant sentiment facing up against weak enthusiasm from the opposition, the result seems obvious with hindsight.
The leave campaign critique of the EU remains illegitimate in my opinion. Its reasoning was built on dog-whistle racism, lies about funding, and the false idea that EU immigration was impacting the UK labour market.
I voted remain because I believe in the freedom of movement of people; not as connected to an ever-worsening labour market, but as a correct philosophical direction for humanity regardless of how it was achieved. Freedom of movement is worth defending. That this freedom will be retracted rather than maintained or extended is extremely sad.
I also believe in protecting the most vulnerable members of society. In the case of the EU referendum, that meant voting to maintain the right of residence for as many people as possible, and to vote against the spreading atmosphere of hatred against immigrants.
I do think that the EU has had some role in promoting peace in Europe too, although this is mostly a gross overstatement. The big European powers being forced to cooperate probably has reduced the potential for conflict, but maybe we should ask the people in Greece or Spain whose houses were repossessed how peaceful they feel these days1.
Since the referendum result, a section of remain voters who have turned their political loss into spitting mad EU zealotry has emerged. There are many legitimate criticisms of the EU, which are rarely addressed by the 48%: the brutal policing of the EU border which results in so much death and destruction; the way the more powerful member states inflict punitive austerity upon their neighbours; the technocracy that leaves most EU citizens completely unaware of who represents them in the EU Parliament and why2. I put these issues aside when voting remain — because an egalitarian, anti-racist leave vote was never possible — but we can’t ignore them indefinitely.
To anyone who has allowed the referendum loss to cloud their judgement, I can only say this: if you share my ideals, you will take the terrible aspects of the EU seriously and think hard about how to build a different future. Waving EU flags and having themed wine and cheese parties is the stuff of simple minds. It is not becoming of people who fancy themselves as the intelligentsia. Nobody benefits from uncritical support; least of all your own cause, which by now looks just as uninformed and self-interested as the leave campaign. If you want more than “7/10” support, you’d better build something that people can really love.
I want to see more from Labour on this issue. More details about what a post-Brexit UK will look like. An image of how a Labour-led Brexit would be any different to the one currently being pushed through by the most malignant wing of the Conservative Party. It’s a matter of urgency.