I was 27 at the time and I seem to recall that the main argument of those opposed to our joining was that a choice to enter into new trading partnerships with our European neighbours would mean that we would have to turn our backs on trade links with the Commonwealth which, up until then, had been a matter of history.
But the golden promises of Common Market membership – which previous governments had desperately sought despite repeated rejections by France – held sway, and the 1975 referendum took us into “Europe”. Of course what we thought we were joining was the European Community, a common market alliance, not the EU, a political United States of Europe venture. It took us four decades to recognise the mistake we had made and to have the courage to decide we needed to leave the shambolic EU behind.
The other mistake we made was walking, almost blindly, into having to wait three years for the decision that the majority of voters took back in 2016 to come into effect. It didn’t take three years for us to be welcomed in and it shouldn’t have taken three years for us to walk out – and, as I have said in these pages before, we should have walked.
Instead it has provided three years for Europe, in the guise of Michel Barnier and Jean-Claude Junker, to try to bully and hector and threaten Britain into begging forgiveness and asking the EU to take us back like the biblical Prodigal Son. What difference does it make to them if we leave? What is it they are afraid of that they are so desperate to make us stay?
And then we have our remoaner politicians trying to frighten the country into changing its mind. Today’s headlines (as I write) “New documents show the ‘unsettling consequences’ of a no-deal Brexit”. And what were the best examples that they could come up with? Bus and coach services to EU countries could be suspended, and people hoping to travel to the EU might not be able to take their pets with them! Talk about clutching at straws.
Why are Remoaners so convinced that a devastating apocalypse will descend on the UK the day after we leave next year? Why do they seem so convinced that there will be no life after Brexit? How old were these people back in 1975 when we joined the EC? How many of them still remember that we didn’t climb out of a dark abyss into the light of the European Community and so there’s no reason why we will fall back into it when we leave. What we will basically return to is being able to manage our own international and domestic policies just as we did before – possibly even better because we will have learned a great deal from our unfortunate years of “exile” in Europe.
Meanwhile we will no doubt have to endure the threats and antics and scaremongering of the playground bullies for another six months or so. I appreciate that no one likes to lose, but the result of the 2016 referendum was a decision by the majority of those who chose to vote to leave (“decisions are made by those who show up”). Theresa May keeps saying “Brexit means Brexit” and she has pledged herself to honour that majority decision of the people. If she now does a U-turn, finding some excuse to cave in to the remoaners, even blaming the EU for it, it will be the single most destructive blow to the democratic process that this country has known.
And that reminds me, how come by now we haven’t recalled our MEPs instead of continuing to spend even more money maintaining the Brussels lifestyle to which they have become accustomed? The EU doesn’t care anymore what we think (if it ever did) so why are our MEPs still there?
Life-changing choices are naturally a reason for concern and, yes sometimes, even fear – whether it’s moving house, changing jobs, getting married, whatever, but we face them with courage and we deal with them and with whatever comes our way afterwards. Life in the EU was never great and has caused this country to lose a great deal of its national autonomy and self-respect. After 40 years of it, we were finally given back our voice and what we said was “enough’s enough” – enough of interference from Europe, enough of their squandering the millions of pounds we contribute, enough from Monsieur Barnier and the rest of them. Our choice must be honoured.
Neil McNicholas is a parish priest in Yarm.