Debate: The Brexit Divide
The will we / won't we debate over the United Kingdom leaving the European Union has raged for more than two years now.  The battle lines have been drawn - opinions have differed, tempers have frayed, friendships have been built or lost.  Just two months before the country is due to leave the EU, huge divides still remain - and a definitive consensus on how to proceed has yet to be reached by the politicians charged with taking the country on the path its people chose in the 2016 referendum.  KJM Today presents views representing both sides of the argument.

Kevan James - Leave

   I was a reluctant leave voter in the referendum held over whether or not the UK should remain in or leave the EU. I am still so now and I am reluctant not because I believe that the EU is bad thing. Of itself and by itself it isn’t. I do think however, that it is an overly bureaucratic organisation that is fundamentally undemocratic in that it imposes a one-size-fits-all decree regarding everything on the citizens of its member states, whether those citizens want it or not.

   Yet the EU can be, and in many ways is, a very good thing. The free movement of business and trade is one example. It is what the UK voted to join (the Common Market, as it was then called) over four decades ago. The free movement of people is another - however, that aspect is also one that apparently a significant number of leave voters railed against.

   I do not believe this. I do not believe this because the UK has, for much longer than it has been a member of the EU, a well-established record of welcoming people from other parts of the world to it. I can see no valid reason for that to change after March this year (or at any other time subsequently). Not only that but since the UK is not a signatory to the Schengen Agreement, which provides for no borders between those countries that have signed it, for any UK citizen to travel to any EU country and vice-versa, everybody still needs a passport.

   Except of course, between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, where there has been no border since the 1920s. The UK’s leaving the EU need not, and should not, result in a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland – this has been one of, if not ‘the’ main sticking point in the Withdrawal Agreement that was so comprehensively voted down in the House of Commons.

   But the Withdrawal Agreement was just that; an agreement between the UK and the EU over what obligations the UK had and the terms otherwise of the UK’s departure. It contained nothing about the subsequent Trade Deal that would then be discussed, the ‘real’ deal that would prevent the backstop coming into effect. It is my belief that such a trade deal would be done and dusted long before the backstop came anywhere close to being realised. It does however, beg the question; why was the Withdrawal Agreement so necessary?

   It was necessary because the EU’s unelected elite demanded that it must be so, and thus put in place before it would begin trade talks. The UK Government, led by Prime Minister Theresa May, wanted to begin trade talks immediately and in tandem with talks on the terms of the UK’s leaving – the EU would not budge. So we are now where we are.

   There is therefore, at the moment, no agreement on how the UK leaves and under what terms. So does this mean (as it has been so inaccurately put) we leave with ‘No Deal’? Not necessarily. If however, March 29 comes along and no withdrawal agreement is in place, what happens then?

   Does the Channel Tunnel close? Will there be an immediate halt to flights and ferry crossings over the Channel? Will there be the catastrophic cessation of food and other essentials between the two, as described so apocalyptically by so many doom-laded predictors of life ending?

   No to all. Life will go on and, again in my view, not much will noticeably change in the everyday lives of people both in the UK and the EU. What will happen - what must happen - is that the posturing panjandrums promoting their own personal agendas over the ordinary people of both the UK and the EU, stop posing and deliver the exit as voted for. And do so quickly without all the unnecessary drama.

   I have already written (several times) that the UK has an obligation to the EU to maintain its involvement with those things that it had signed up to prior to the referendum. It would be extraordinarily dishonourable to do anything else and it is what the ‘divorce bill’ is for. I see no reason to renege on our commitments. I have also said previously that the UK must reaffirm its commitment as a friend and ally of the EU to remain a reliable, steadfast partner, and as such, refrain from placing any barriers, tariffs or other obstructions to movement of business and goods between the two. As far as people are concerned, there is no requirement for a visa – just bring your passport.

   None of this means that the UK needs to be a member of a union. It just needs to be a friend and ally. The EU must do the same.  We don’t need a ‘People’s Vote’, a second referendum. The people already had a vote and the majority voted to leave. At the last general election, the major political parties all stood on a manifesto commitment to deliver Brexit.  So deliver it.

Andy Martin - Remain

   I’ve never truly understood the strong urge many people in the UK have to leave the European Union.  During much of my career I have interacted with and worked alongside people from the continent.  I have experienced the advantages of free movement, passport-less travel and a common currency – which make trade more expedient and travel simpler and cheaper.  I don’t expect my engagements with Europeans will change much post-Brexit, but I do suspect that accomplishing my objectives will become slightly more challenging. 

   The origins for supporting for remain might be founded in a past experience.  One thing that sticks in my mind is the UK’s position during the Gulf War when it stood alone and supported the USA’s conviction that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons, while most European nations adopted a less confrontational approach.  Spending time with continental colleagues, I felt totally isolated and almost ashamed to be British.  It wasn’t so much my country’s isolated position that bothered me, but more that I believed there was strength in numbers and that we should work with our nearby relatives.

 

   Taking things further – not only did I support the remain campaign, but I would also have had no problems with the UK adopting the Euro currency or becoming part of the Schengen zone.  In my view the ability to move between countries without the rigmarole involved with passports and visa, and there being no need for currency exchange, far outweighs the downsides.  And right now, I also believe that a European army wouldn’t be bad idea either – the UK struggles to provide adequate defence funding and a united coalition should the best way of dealing with many of the world’s problems.

   Many will regard me as very pro-EU.  The reality is yes and no.  I’m not wedded to the institution, but I do support many of the principles and some of the ideals that have come out of it.  Other things the Union has done were undoubtedly misguided or bad for Britain.  Significant reform is still needed.  Opt-outs need to be easier to negotiate.  And I believe that change – the best means of correcting the wrongs – comes from within rather than outside.

   

   I always saw the referendum campaign as a flawed exercise that failed to address issues in any detail.  I believe many voters made a choice based on xenophobic ideals (immigration, border control, money for the health service, people from overseas taking jobs in the UK, etc.), rather than the practicalities of being part of today’s world.  The premise behind Brexit seemed to be that we could be better off outside as we would again become masters of our own destiny.  I weighed that up against the certainty, albeit not an ideal one, that remaining in the EU represented.  By far the biggest problem I saw was that leave involved a leap into the unknown, a risk that we could be worse off and isolated.  “Better the devil you know” was undoubtedly a truism in my mind – the EU may not have been perfect, but at least it offered stability.

   As the exit negotiations unfolded and unravelled, my views clarified even more.  It became obvious that no one, certainly not the politicians we’d listened to during the pre-referendum debates, really knew what Brexit was.  Some things have become clearer over the last two years, but not everything.  I still don’t understand how the UK can have a frictionless border with the Republic of Ireland, and yet limit free movement and implement differing trade tariffs.  We are only two months away from the deadline, and yet we don’t know whether we'll have some sort of deal or a hard-exit.  That alone points to us never having got a grasp of Brexit’s true implications.  Now more than ever I think insisting on leaving on March 29, come hell or high water, is not in the best interests of the UK.  And I can't understand how our politicians can allow the country to take that final step without greater clarity.   

   Ideally parliament should enact the will of the people.  But above all else I believe our politicians have a duty to act in the best interests of the country.  They must do that no matter what the result of the last election or referendum.  There are clear mandates for parliament going against popular opinion – early elections, no confidence votes, MP’s rebellions.  But Westminster seems unwilling to take that step – to go against the results of the referendum or at least postpone exit until all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed.

   No doubt that the events that have unfolded over past two years will, for some, have confirmed their choice to leave.  For others, doubts will have been cast over the whole process.  In essence though everyone now knows a lot more about Brexit.  We could make a more informed decision.  And that’s why I support the idea a second referendum.  It isn’t a matter of asking over and over again.  So much has become clearer since 2016 that the people must again be asked whether they believe Brexit is the right or wrong choice for Great Britain. 

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