After a close result in the 2016 referendum, with 51.89% voting to leave the EU, Brexit became a reality on 31 January 2020. However, since 2016 public opinion has shifted: according to What UK Thinks poll of polls 58% would now vote to remain in the EU.
There is a term for our current predicament: Bregret or Brexit regret. The paradox is that whilst governments can be voted out and laws can be changed, the hard Brexit negotiated by Boris Johnson seems to be irreversible.
In some countries the public can call for a referendum, if the request is supported by a certain number of signatures. This is not the case in the UK.
Only Parliament could call a referendum, but there is currently no incentive for any of the main parties to revisit the Brexit issue given our first-past-the post electoral system, a voting system which has strongly tilted politics to the right.
The march and reasons to protest
Remainers, now campaigning to rejoin the EU, organised a march in London on 23 September to protest against the status quo.
There are a number of reasons for seeking change.
Travel to the EU is now more complicated and, as a consequence of Brexit, we no longer have the right to work, study or marry in any EU nation.
Brexit has also killed off school trips. School visits both from the UK to the EU and from the EU to the UK have reduced by 80% or more, according to a recent House of Commons Library report.
For young Europeans willing to learn English, it is now easier to go to the Republic of Ireland. This not just a loss of income, it is a loss of opportunities to broaden horizons and foster mutual understanding.
Fighting climate change has become more difficult. It is not just the fact the Rishi Sunak is backtracking on the implementation of the necessary policies here in the UK.
As members of the EU, we could use trade deals to push for action by other countries on climate change. Since leaving the EU we have given up on this: on our own we do not have the weight to influence trading partners.
Pollution of rivers and seawater has worsened since Brexit. Micharl Gove has now proposed to reduce the previous EU environmental water standards, whilst several toxic chemicals banned in the EU since Brexit can still be used in the UK. Before joining the EU in 1973, Great Britain had the reputation of being the ‘dirty man of Europe’.
Reducing air pollution also requires regulations applied across neighbouring countries, as a significant proportion of air pollution is transboundary.
At the London march members of the European Movement distributed some beer mats with the message that the EU is primarily a Peace Project.
In the past two centuries nationalism, a kind of excessive patriotism, has been the main driver for ever-more destructive European wars.
In some countries nationalism manifested primarily as colonialisms, whilst in others it led to wars of aggression in Europe and to “imperialism”. Until WW2 politicians, writers and even philosophers provided a range of justifications for imperialism such as cultural or racial superiority, necessary self-interest or social Darwinism.
After the end of WW2 many across Europe felt that there was a need for change. Winston Churchill captured this need with these words in 1946: “There is a remedy … It is to re-create the European family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe.”
Nationalism has raised again its ugly head with recent conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The EU can play a critical role in coordinating European policies in the face of Russian aggression, Chinese threats, and the risk of a Trump re-election in 2024.
I went to the Rejoiners march in London with a placard that read: stronger together in Europe.