I supported a Remain vote during the EU referendum earlier this year. I campaigned for Britain Stronger in Europe, and Conservatives IN, because I felt that that was in the best interests of the country. I was always a ‘Reluctant Remainer’ – although I did not like the EU, and a lot of what it stood for, I thought that we would all be better off, and our economy would be stronger, if we stayed a member.
When the result came through on the morning of June 24th, there were some parts of me that were pleased, but, on the whole, I was reasonably disappointed by the decision. However, since then, through the words and actions of EU leaders, Remain campaigners and many others, I have come to regret the stance I took. I regret supporting a Remain vote, but I am so pleased that the majority of voters could see what it has taken me some time to see.
Many EU leaders and figures have played a part in my increasing disillusionment with the Union. I have always been opposed to the creation of an ‘EU Army’. Following the referendum result, the EU announced plans to push on with its creation. This, for me, spoke volumes about the European Union. More than the fact that they want to implement a significant policy that I fundamentally disagree with, the idea that they would delay announcing this decision until after Britain had voted reveals the nasty side of many of these bureaucrats. Knowing that the British public would not like this measure, and it might push voters towards a Brexit, the EU delayed their announcement of these plans until after the referendum, so that it would not have had an effect on the outcome of the vote (ultimately, Britain voted out – much to their surprise – and so it made no difference). This is dishonest politics – not the sort of people we should ever have wanted to be in Union with in the first place.
The attitude of EU leaders towards Brexit further reinforced this view. As was made clear throughout the referendum campaign, Britain is an important trading partner of the EU – we rely on them and they rely on us. Therefore, as was accepted by both sides, trade with Britain is important for both the economy of the EU and its member states, but also the financial security of many of EU citizens. However, European leaders are calling for a ‘Tough Brexit’, where they will be hard on the UK, making it harder than necessary for us to trade with them. This is to punish the UK for its decision, and deter other member states from wanting to leave. Breaking this down to its very core, EU leaders are happy to make life harder for their own citizens, in order to punish us and stop others from following us. Again, are these really the type of people that we would want to be in a political union with?
Throughout the campaign, I was of the view that I agreed with the Leave arguments on immigration and sovereignty, and the Remain argument on the economy, and that the economic case was more important than the ‘take back control’ one (hence why I was a ‘Reluctant Remainer’). However, since then, my views on this have been changed. It is true that the majority of experts that weighed into the debate supported a Remain vote. However, many more experts did not get involved. As such, we, as a nation, and under a Conservative government, have debunked the myth that business will flee the UK if we vote for a Brexit. In the last few months, amongst many others, Apple invested in a new HQ in London and GlaxoSmithKline has invested £275m in new manufacturing sites across the UK. Meanwhile, around the world, many different countries, such as Australia, are queuing up to make trade deals with us. It may stumble for a couple of years, but the UK economy will prosper ‘despite Brexit’ (as the media keep telling us). Further to this, as a young person, living in an international city, I am so pleased that we will be open to the world, and not just to a single continent (that happens to be the slowest growing economy of any continent). We will be able to control (and importantly, definitely not stop) immigration. It is, by definition, unsustainable to have open borders to a continent of hundreds of millions of people. However, when we leave the EU, we can have a more flexible and appropriate immigration policy. Immigrants do, on the whole, wonderful things for and as residents of the UK. However, we can now control the numbers so that our social services are not overwhelmed, and we can ensure that we have the right number of skilled workers moving to this country, rather than simply anybody coming to Britain because it looks like a nice place to live, as is the case with freedom of movement.
At the end of the day, me changing my stance on Brexit means very little – as has been said, ‘we’re all Brexiteers now’. However, over the months since the referendum, we have seen a Conservative government show us the opportunities of Brexit, unlike many on the Labour and Liberal Democrat benches who try to scare us away from it and patronise voters by claiming that they did not know what they were voting for, as Emily Thornberry did recently. Britain is now open to the world, and not an elite in Brussels looking out for the survival of their union rather than the people that they are supposed to represent. I regret the position that I took during the referendum campaign. However, it is now clear that, as a country, we are much more open to the world, and, as a young person, my future will be filled with more opportunity, because we voted for Brexit.
Zac Wagman is Chairman of Harrow Conservative Future and a former member of the Youth Parliament for Harrow.