I voted to leave the European Union. I was wrong.
When I voted to leave the European Union in June 2016, I did so with the best of intentions. I knew that the vote would be close, even if it was 45%-55% to Leave, I asked myself how could the narrow minority on the other side be completely forgotten? Surely we would remain in the Single Market, enjoy all the of benefits of a Norway style Brexit - the free movement of goods, services, capital and people while getting rid of some of the bad aspects of EU membership, such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), questionable accountability and the inherent democratic deficit within its institutions, as well as regaining the ability to choose which laws we pass at a national level.
I was optimistic about the future of Britain. Free from the shackles of the vast majority of future EU regulation at a domestic level while safeguarding our place within the EEA, Britain would flourish by signing new trade deals across the world, lowering our tariffs across the board and utilising the strength of our soft power to become a greater player on the world stage.
It was not my desire to close our borders, relegate EU citizens living here to second class status, or tear Britain out of the largest free trade area ever in history, but that is the form of Brexit that we are getting. My optimism was clearly misplaced. While there is essentially no reason that a liberal Brexit cannot happen in theory, in practice the gross incompetence of British politicians renders this impossible. We have a weak Conservative leadership being driven by backbench ideologues who care more about cutting all ties with our European partners rather than the negative economic effects this will have for everyone in our country, particularly those least well off already. Likewise, the Labour leadership are the ideologues driving a broken parliamentary party toward the Conservative’s hardest of Brexits because of their deep mistrust of the capitalist model that the EU was built upon and because it will be easier for them to overturn the UK economy without EU oversight.
Now I realise the gamble that I and all other liberal Leavers have taken in voting for Brexit. Is the chance for minor gains in international trade and lower tariffs worth the risk of tanking our economy and turning our country inward? With hindsight I would argue it is not.
In fact, it is now clear to me that the real way to achieve these things without unnecessary risk is by leading, not leaving, the European Union. Rather than complaining about all of the things we dislike about the EU and turning our backs on the project, we should take a leadership role and try to change the bad aspects and improve on all of the good that already exists.
Now is the time to make these changes. With a pragmatic centrist in power in France and a second grand coalition likely to take power in Germany we have a great opportunity to push for sensible reforms to the European project, alleviate some of the concerns that led to the Brexit vote and make the whole of Europe more prosperous and free, not just Britain.
I just wish I realised all of this two years ago.