By James Moules
WHEN the clock strikes 11pm in the UK on January 31, 2022, it will mark two years since Britain formally left the European Union.
A year later, and the journey out of the bloc was complete with the ratification of a trade agreement between the UK and the EU.
From the moment vote leave crossed the finish line in the 2016 referendum, Britain was thrown into years of political instability.
Two general elections, two Tory leaders and a series of fraught negotiations came and went. A nation was left bitterly divided.
While the Covid pandemic has become the issue of the day since 2020, many pro-European campaigners have not abandoned their cause – with a dedicated corps committed to rejoining the bloc.
Richard Hewison, leader of the aptly named Rejoin EU Party, told Redaction Report that the movement for Britain’s return to the European Union was his focus from the moment of departure.
Describing his feelings on January 31, 2020, he said: “I didn’t feel much to be honest. Generally, I try not to let emotion dictate my actions and strive to always seek logical ways forward in political discourse.”
At that time, he was busy preparing his run for Mayor of London – which would be postponed by a year due to the pandemic. He ended up in eighth place out of a field of 20 candidates.
The Rejoin EU Party also contested several by-elections through 2021, including Chesham & Amersham and Batley & Spen – while Hewison himself contested Old Bexley & Sidcup in December.
At the 2016 referendum, there was a stark divide in the age gap among voters.
According to a Lord Ashcroft poll, 73 per cent of voters aged 18-24 voted to remain in the EU while 60 per cent over those aged 65 and over opted in favour of Brexit.
Hewison lamented that many younger Britons, who were not of voting age at the time of the referendum, have not been offered a direct say on the matter.
“This year will mark the twenty-fourth birthday for people who have never had a say in the way their future is run,” he said.
“These people didn’t consent to having their educational, work, life or retirement rights outside the UK stripped away from them.
“Why should these people, who have the most human capital at stake, never be allowed to give a view on our membership with the EU?”
The Brexit referendum was called by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron in fulfilment of his 2015 general election pledge.
Despite this, Cameron himself campaigned for remaining in the EU, but many high-profile members of his party including Boris Johnson and Michael Gove publicly backed the leave option.
The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn campaigned for remain, as did the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.
Earlier in 2016, Cameron had secured a deal with the EU to exempt the UK from any further integration into the bloc.
But in the end, the leave campaign won the referendum by a wafer-thing margin with 52 per cent of the vote.
Asked who he saw as most to blame for Brexit, Hewison said: “Without David Cameron’s dangerous election rhetoric in 2015 none of this would have come about.
“Having said that, if David Cameron had managed to negotiate a better deal in 2016 rather than the ridiculous piece of paper he brought back with him, we wouldn’t have had Brexit.
“Yes, European negotiators in 2016 share some of the blame by not seeing those negotiations as both an opportunity and necessity to communicate the European Union benefits to a sceptical UK population.
“The blatant opportunism of Boris Johnson during the referendum campaign may have pushed it over the line at that stage.”
Hewison also levelled blame at Cameron’s successor Theresa May, whose term as Prime Minister was dominated by Brexit negotiations and resigned in 2019 following several failed attempts to pass her withdrawal deal in the House of Commons.
“The feebleness of Theresa May as Prime Minister to manage the situation when a proper deal subject to a second ratifying referendum was the obvious competent way forward in the period between 2016 and 2019 is one of the greatest failures of political leadership on record.”
However, Hewison did not exempt the remain side from criticism, also lambasting former leaders of Labour and the Liberal Democrats for their approach.
He said: “Poor political tactics and brinkmanship by Jo Swinson and Jeremy Corbyn in bringing about a general election in 2019 sealed the deal and the fate of the UK.”
Even though the Rejoin EU Party has failed to win any elections, Hewison is not giving up.
He is looking to bolster his party with a fresh batch of members in the run up to May’s local elections.
“The Rejoin EU Party continues to be a safe space for those who reject the lies of Brexit and the lily-livered compromises of the apologists,” he said.
“As ever, we exist so people who feel no-one speaks for them in elections can stand themselves, use our label, and get that voice.”
One of the key cases put forward by the leave campaign was protection of the principle of parliamentary sovereignty – the idea that the British parliament is the supreme authority in lawmaking in the UK – and argued that EU law threatened it.
However, many pro-Europeans bemoan that the UK is no longer in the EU single market due to Brexit – which enshrined the right of freedom of movement for people, goods, services and capital.
Hewison said: “To me, the biggest loss will always be the freedom of movement and integration with other individuals we share this planet with.
“From the lack of ability to retire in Spain to the loss of educational, working and social opportunities for our young people in other countries this seems to me the biggest issue.
“Yes, the economic problems are well documented and inherently more quantifiable. I’m sure those who have seen their incomes suffer or livelihoods disappear because of Brexit will be far more focused on these factors.”
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