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The UK’s experience of extricating itself from the EU underlines why it was wrong to join in the first place

Some commentators, and particularly – not surprisingly – those who wished to remain in the European Union, have been making much of the difficulties the UK has experienced in extricating itself from the embrace (if that is the right word) of the EU.

They cite the difficulty the UK has had in negotiating a satisfactory new arrangement, the still unresolved problems thrown up by the Withdrawal Agreement – the supposed breach of international law that British legislation concerning the withdrawal could bring about, the unresolved issues of rights to fishing waters and the admissibility of state aids to industry – as evidence that the decision to leave the EU was mistaken – and (presumably) should be reversed.

But another view and interpretation – more in accord with reason and the facts – is also possible. Each of these difficulties arising from the withdrawal process can be seen as further evidence that the original decision to join ‘Europe’ was a fundamental mistake and that the sooner we can get out, the better.

Why would anyone wish to join, let alone remain part of, an arrangement that has not only failed to deliver what was promised, but from which it is claimed that it is impossible to leave without paying further heavy penalties and prices?

Are these problems about withdrawal not simply further evidence of the pressing need to disengage? Are not the intransigence of our supposed ‘partners’, their unwillingness to negotiate a mutually-beneficial new arrangement, the requirement that we should continue to cede important economic rights such as the exclusive right to fish in our own waters, and the loss of the ability to decide our own affairs – all being demonstrated anew as we seek to leave – precisely the kinds of issue that underlay the decision to leave in the first place?

What is surprising about the commentary from the critics of the decision to leave is that they not only fail to understand how thoroughly the withdrawal process demonstrates the need to leave, but that they show not the slightest awareness of their own responsibility for, or any readiness to apologise for, their role in bringing about the difficulties that we still face.

These critics are, after all, those who urged us on into the whole disastrous experiment in the first place. They are the ones who promised us an economic nirvana, who assured us that there would be no loss of the powers of self-government, who pooh-poohed any intention to create a European super-state – let alone one from which it would be virtually impossible to withdraw without heavy penalties.

How refreshing it would be if they were to acknowledge that they had got it wrong and had sold us a false prospectus, if they would stop treating their allegiance to the European ‘ideal’ as still justifying their selling our interests down the river. They have much to answer for. Some self-awareness, contrition, humility and perhaps ‘a period of silence’ (to quote Clement Attlee) from them would be welcome.

Bryan Gould

Bryan Gould is a former diplomat who sat in the House of Commons as Labour MP for Southampton Test between 1974 and 1979 and then for Dagenham between 1983 and 1994. He served as a member of the Shadow Cabinet in a variety of roles and was an unsuccessful candidate for the Labour Party leadership in 1992. He stood down from Parliament in 1994 to become Vice Chancellor of the University of Waikato in his native New Zealand. He is the author of The Democracy Sham: How Globalisation Devalues Your Vote (2006), Myths, Politicians and Money (2008) and Call To Action (2015).

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