I vividly recall four years ago today walking round to my youngest son’s junior school to vote in the Referendum about whether the UK should stay in or leave the EU. It was raining that day, but that did not dampen my spirits, or those of millions of others who felt that it was their civic and democratic duty to vote. Polling stations up and down the land did a brisk trade that day and I recall how positive I felt about voting in favour of Brexit. I always knew that it was going to be a challenge, but you cannot put a price on freedom and sovereignty and four years on. I am more convinced than ever that I made the right choice. What was so heartening was the fact that although the media, busines and political establishment seemed near united against Brexit, their doom mongering did not deter me and millions like me, if anything it convinced us that we were doing the right thing.
So here we are in 2020 and this morning I had the privilege of having a discussion with a group of mainly Central and Eastern European students in the UK about Brexit. What struck me was the fact that they not only appreciated that it might possibly have some adverse consequences for their communities, but they were adamant that Britain had done the right thing. They appreciated the country’s need to attract the best people from across the globe, not merely the skilled and unskilled from 27 EU member states. They were very frank about the fact that some people had come to the UK with the sole intention of taking advantage of the UK’s benefit system and they agreed that this was not only unfair, it was utterly wrong. They themselves are busy upskilling themselves, appreciating as they do the quality and variety of the UK’s higher education system. They appreciate that there are challenges but believe that things will improve and that opportunities will open up for those with the right qualifications and attitude. It was interesting that they observed that the recent Pandemic had shown that in the scheme of things Brexit is a minor inconvenience and that the country has shown it can adapt to the new realities and that will mean not just looking to the EU but thinking and acting globally. It had not gone unnoticed how badly the EU had handled the COVID-19 Pandemic, with states such as Italy feeling badly let down. What struck me was their measured understanding of some of the complex issues, their positivity and maturity about the topic reflected well on them and yet made one wonder why their voice and opinions seem absent from the mainstream media. Of course, we all know why, for some, even after four years want us to view Brexit as a negative act.
Well the vote four years ago did not feel negative and it still doesn’t. That said, I do feel sad that some people still cannot accept the result, or they seem to want to do is bad mouth people who voted for Brexit or talk Britain down. Like any nation the UK has its faults, but when I think of the extraordinary work done by the NHS, the remarkable kitting out of the Nightingale Hospitals in record time and the generous support provided by the UK Government to thousands of businesses during a time of crisis we can begin to appreciate that there are many worse places to live. Soon this country will be fully sovereign again and free to trade with the world, not just a privileged section of it. Yes, there will be setbacks and difficulties, but life is all about challenges, the question is do we just sit around moaning about things, or do we roll up our sleeves and get the job done?
Democracy was the real winner four years ago, and we should all be grateful to live in a country where we have a say. Come rain or shine let us work to make this a better, fairer and more just society, one that values all its citizens, but equally has citizens determined to play their part in a positive and purposeful way.