I believe that the UK would be wealthier, stronger and more at peace with itself if it had never joined the “Common Market” in 1973. There are many people who agree with me and many, who disagree. But there is no way of proving, who is right and who is wrong. It’s a matter of personal judgement and belief.
Because I hold the views that I do, I voted to leave the Common Market in the referendum of 1975 and to leave the European Union in the referendum of 2016.
In truth, the referendum of 1975 was nothing to do with following the will of the electorate. It was a device, introduced by the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, to unite the Labour party, which had been returned to Government the year before and was seriously divided by the issue of Europe.
Harold Wilson was an astute and streetwise operator, who knew that the British electorate was strongly in favour of joining the Common Market. At that time, the UK had a decimated economy, in the aftermath of two world wars; and had lost it’s place in the world, following the disintegration of the British Empire. If nothing else, joining the Common Market gave the UK a sense of direction and purpose. Wilson knew this and knew that he’d win the referendum decisively. And, of course, he did, which enabled the Labour Party to move on and become largely pro Europe.
The 2016 referendum was instigated by Prime Minister David Cameron, who tried to unite the Conservative Party as Wilson had united Labour. But Cameron was much less streetwise than Wilson and he didn’t have Wilson’s instinctive understanding of the British electorate. Despite the huge vote in favour of Europe in 1975, many people had become increasingly concerned by the ever closer economic and political integration of the European Union, particularly following the Maastricht treaty in 1992. Support for EU membership had fallen significantly, making the outcome of the 2016 referendum anything but a foregone conclusion. Sadly, not only did Cameron’s strategy totally fail to unite the Conservative Party, it resulted in the entire nation being split down the middle in a way that we haven’t seen since the English civil war between 1642 and 1651.
The bitterness, aggression and intolerance emanating from each side towards the other is not just heartbreaking but is doing far more damage to our economy, our values, our way of life and our reputation in the world than almost any possible outcome of Brexit, from remaining in the EU to crashing out without a deal.
At times of national upheaval such as this, there is a need for strong, decisive leadership. In the first world war, we had David Lloyd-George. In the second world war we had Winston Churchill. Today, in Theresa May, we have a Prime Minister, who is decent, honest, extremely intelligent, hardworking and totally dedicated to doing her absolute best for the people of this country but she isn’t a leader. She isn’t able, through sheer force of character, to unite the political establishment in the way that Churchill did. As a result her party remains divided as does the country.
As leader of the opposition, we have Jeremy Corbyn. But far from being a unifying figure, he has divided the Labour Party by engineering it’s takeover by the far left and he has become a divisive figure within the country as a whole. Perhaps more importantly, he has reached the age of nearly 70 without ever holding any significant political office and having been a perpetual rebel on the back benches for most of his career. He appears hopelessly indecisive, driven by ideology rather than pragmatism and, whilst he undoubtedly revels in the adoration of the far left, he fails to inspire many people beyond his own clique.
Without leadership, the outcome of the current Brexit crisis will be a disaster for this country, irrespective of what that outcome is. Like many millions of Brits, I feel completely let down by the political establishment. The rancour, the arrogance, the hypocrisy, the backstabbing, the aggression, the bloody mindedness and the sheer stupidity being displayed in both houses of Parliament is beyond anything I have ever witnessed in my lifetime and it is undermining everything for which this country stands.
I’m not making a case for or against Brexit and I’m not making a case for or against this government. But I am making a case for our 650 elected members of Parliament to get us out of the mess, into which they have put us. That will require a much higher level of integrity than is currently the case, much greater respect for differing opinions and a willingness to compromise. Above all, it is time for them to find a new Prime Minister, behind whom they can unite.