TOM PRATT | Reflections as we leave the EU

The Chair of EU in Brum talks about his feelings as the UK left the European Union

Today heralds the start of a future I, and millions of others in the UK, don’t want. A future developed from mountains of lies and hatred built up over years. A future based on delusions. A future that removes rights, privileges and protections that advantage us and the country. I know I have family and friends who voted the other way but at 11 pm tonight we all lose out. My heart especially goes out to the British people who have made their lives in the EU and now face an uncertain future, as well as the citizens from EU countries who have come to the UK- both groups have been treated with contempt by the Conservative governments, who’ve proved themselves totally untrustworthy.

I’m unsure when I really started paying attention to the European Union, but I know the UK’s membership allowed me to make a lot of friends at the University of Birmingham and enjoy some fantastic parties along the way. I miss those days, and those people.

My main regret is that I haven’t made the most of freedom of movement that I could have, and the opportunities that come from it. And by 2021, it’ll have gone, and some of the barriers will be difficult to overcome. Still, I’ve had some good times- my friends no doubt will have heard about the time I nearly got arrested in Brussels for something I didn’t do; getting laughed at late at night in an Amsterdam casino; the trip across Europe for 16 Carat Gold; the return to Brussels and sitting in the European Parliament, watched Mairead McGuiness shut down Nigel Farage with aplomb.

Recently, I found a presentation I gave during my MA in International Relations (Diplomacy) about British foreign policy since 1945, and as part of the three circles, I’d of course included a section on the European Union. As part of it, I played a video found on Youtube that I felt summed up the constant British gripe- the classic, Farage attacking Guy Verhofstadt: “WHO ARE YOU?” The class, lecturer, and I laughed. It was probably a mistake. In fact, I went on to make a fair few mistakes in dismissing the impact of UKIP. I guess that’s for another time, though.

Later on, I wrote my dissertation on the impact of the “Munich analogy” on British decision-making around the Suez Crisis, the Falklands War and the second Iraq War. It became quickly apparent that the era of appeasement was still alive and kicking in a lot of minds- especially around the EU. Additionally, “Group-think” reared its ugly head, and contributed to the development of rotten policy that did more harm than good; on top of that, you had a bellicose media that created the poisonous atmosphere…. And sure enough, just after I’d submitted, Cameron issued the first ever British veto. It was part of a decade in which the Conservative party and its cohorts acted like spoilt children when it came to the EU.

As I said on the day after the referendum vote, I understand some of the frustrations that led to the Leave vote, but to my mind, the last three years hasn’t made anything better- in some cases, like those of the rough sleepers in Birmingham city centre, it’s made things worse, and after today, I imagine it will deepen and drag more people in. I worry the UK will turn further into a “nasty” nation, as anger at the system, the establishment- at life- is left unquenched. Yesterday, the government finally put some details down on their website about what would happen at the end of the transition period in regards to travel: I can already see that some of those points will lead to disturbing scenes- and who knows what else could spark them?

I confess I feel very dispirited: I first became a political activist in 2010, joining the Take Back Parliament campaign. Since then, it feels like loss after loss, and the scale of the loss getting worse each time, and the country dragging itself, and me, into darker waters. Back in 2000, the pro wrestling reviewer John Petrie wrote about the booking of a promotion something which I think applies here:

“The battle between Good and Evil is a little like shovelfuls of dirt in a hole. Evil takes a scoop out, while Good puts one back in. The goal is to keep that hole filled at ground level. Too many scoops of dirt from the Good side and you build a mound that Evil can never dent. Too many scoops taken out by Evil and you have a hole Good can never fill.”

With certain policy decisions, the present government could indeed dig too great a hole to be filled back in. And yet:

I was desolate after the referendum result, with people very worried about me. It was a second bout of grief. It was in July, I think, when I attended an event at the Impact Hub, and I met EU in Brum for the first time, and Bryan Manley-Green gave a speech in which he totally summed up my feelings at the time. From there, I got involved with the group, and over the years, we’ve done some fantastic work- often proving to be bigger than we are. It’s a genuine team effort and without Claire Fielden, Izzy Knowles, Fiona Murray and many others, EU in Brum wouldn’t exist. Also, through it all, Chris Hofmann has been an absolute rock. I’ve made a lot of friendships, which I hope to continue to share, if only so I can pay you all back for the drinks!

Added to this is the huge community that I found through Facebook and Twitter, as well as other activists who have run their own groups. I think overall, we did what we could, against very tough circumstances. Perhaps if there had been better leadership, our position might have been strengthened, but oh well. Now we look forward, we get through today, and the battle begins afresh.

Brexit may be happening today, but I’ll never accept this aberration, and I hope in the very near future to be successfully toasting the return of the UK to the European Union. It won’t be easy, and it may require a total transformation of the UK, but I’m up for it.

Au revoir L’Union européenne, pas adieu! We’ll be back.

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