Stewart Arnold: Why I have shifted from reluctant Leaver to a Remainer

Will Yorkshire be worse off with a no deal Brexit? Stewart Arnold believes so.
Will Yorkshire be worse off with a no deal Brexit? Stewart Arnold believes so.

I had hoped even up until the last few days, that the European Parliament elections, if they took place, presented an opportunity for discussion about Yorkshire devolution.

I had hoped even up until the last few days, that the European Parliament elections, if they took place, presented an opportunity for discussion about Yorkshire devolution.

After all the Yorkshire Party was set up in 2014 specifically to fight the European Parliament elections that year in order to test the idea of a transfer of powers away from Westminster and Whitehall to Yorkshire and so gauge public opinion.

Although the impact of the debate was inevitably limited, it nevertheless helped to push the discussion forward so that devolution to Yorkshire is well and truly on the map five years later.

Unfortunately, these European Parliament elections (if they happen) already look quite different from those in 2014.

They look increasingly like they will become a proxy referendum on Brexit and given that the UK’s elected MEPs will only be in place until the end of October, there can be no other purpose in electing MEPs other than to send a short-term message on how people feel about Brexit.

It’s clear this is the agenda for the national media and with the formation of Farage’s Brexit Party, the debate will polarise once again around leave or stay in what have already been dubbed ‘zombie elections’.

There will be no space for other issues – not least those which don’t have a national dimension.

In that context it will be beholden on all political parties and all those who have a role in politics over the next weeks to state clearly which side of the Brexit debate they fall on.

It is the same for me.

Over the last three years I have shifted from being a reluctant Leaver to a Remainer.

The evidence quite clearly is that Yorkshire will be considerably worse off if we have no deal.

It will hurt our export markets for manufacturing, services and food and drink production and leave our farming sector under enormous threat in a no-tariff regime. It’s a future I frankly can’t support.

As for a soft Brexit we will have the absurd possibility of participating in either or both of the Customs Union and the single market while having absolutely no say in those matters in Brussels.

To me it makes no sense to leave on those circumstances. It would be better to remain and reform from within.

There are many reasons why I feel a second referendum is the only way out of the current crisis but one of the most compelling is that Westminster is broken.

MPs are divided and unable to make a coherent decision on our behalf.

It might be better to give British people the final say. In that way we bring along the people in one way or another so we are not forever revisiting the referendum of 2016.

We would be able to draw a line in the sand in terms of our relationship with Brussels and move on.

The journalist and broadcaster Peter Oborne has written recently about his own journey as a Leaver to someone who wants a pause on the process and the opportunity to think again.

Brexit might have worked had it been properly managed by competent people from the outset.

But it wasn’t and we now face an unnecessary Brexit disaster.

As Peter Oborne puts it so succinctly himself: ‘...there comes a moment in life when determination alone turns to madness. When the wisest and best move is to give up and think again’.

I know my statement will upset a lot of former and current political colleagues, but I hope they can understand my reasons and that we can remain friends in the fight for what I actually think is a bigger prize – that of Yorkshire devolution.

That fight, though, is for another day.

Right now I have to campaign for a ‘Brexit pause’ and a People’s Vote.

Stewart Arnold cofounded the Yorkshire Party in 2014 and led the party until March 2019.