While abroad, I receive a lot of questions about Brexit. What does Brexit mean, beyond just “Brexit means Brexit”? Why did I vote for it? Brexit is often lumped in with the malignant rise of populism across Europe; Le Pen, Orban, the five Star Movement in Italy and the Freedom Party in Austria. Brexit is seen as synonymous with isolationism, anti-immigration sentiment and fear of societal progress. As someone who espouses liberty and internationalism, I may, therefore, seem an unlikely candidate for a Brexit voter.
Of course, my Brexit was the opposite to Nigel Farage’s. I voted for a Brexit that would open up Britain to the rest of the globe which the EU had shut off, not a Brexit to isolate us from both the EU and the world.
Brexit was, for me, an opportunity to reinvigorate the liberal legacy of Britain’s parliamentary democracy. It was an opportunity to enhance free trade and alliances with new countries across emerging markets. In short, my Brexit was entirely removed from Theresa May’s sterile pragmatism, in which Brexit exists to provide extra funding — 384 million as we are told this week — towards the NHS each year.
Brexit came as an opportunity for a reinvigorated United Kingdom after years of cultural stagnation and confusion, following the 2008 financial crisis and global changes after the Cold War. The Government under David Cameron had achieved greater employment and economic growth with a fiscally conservative programme; yet the country seemed increasingly divided, perplexed about its history and values and, quite frankly, lost. Discord surrounding immigration, Islamist extremism and a changing British character erupted.
The disdain with which certain elites treated Brexit voters was epitomised by cartoons depicting the Leave camp as sub-human creatures, such as rats. After the vote was counted, my Facebook feed was filled with hysteria about the perils of life outside the EU, and many in my home city of London decided they wanted to secede from the rest of the United Kingdom.
The rise of the technocratic EU had emboldened a patronising group of social democratic elites in the UK who were far removed from the realities of their own country. It was clear that change was essential and that, post-Brexit, we needed to work cohesively to create a better future for Britain.
However, it seems that in the two years following Brexit, the impetus for progressing beyond the vote to leave has evaporated. Rather than a robust discussion of the ideals that should govern a global Britain, we are overcome with a counterproductive focus on the numbers and the technicalities.
There are also those figures such as Tony Blair, who remain convinced two years on that we can reverse what he and others perceive as a feckless vote decided by the uneducated, racist voter. The voice of stubborn Remainers — aptly dubbed ‘remoaners’ — has stagnated the necessary visionary thinking about the future post-Brexit.
On the other side of this stands Theresa May, arguably one of the worst choices to lead our country through this period. In a time of massive change, what we need isn’t “strong and stable” but rather, bold and visionary. We shouldn’t have to pretend that Brexit will be a smooth transition. We should instead be excited about the opportunities it offers us, including the necessary risks in the process. Of course, Brexit will take a lot of tedious calculations, bureaucracy and votes on un-engaging issues. However, throughout this necessary process, we must ensure we don’t lose sight of the greater and far more interesting questions surrounding our future.
Brexit offers us a once in a generation opportunity to regain our national identity as a country that has been so integral in the creation of democracy and the ideals of freedom. We can regain independence over the laws by which we all must live and those who govern over us will be accountable fully at the ballot box.
A foreign policy crafted outside of EU considerations would allow us to have more of a positive influence on global stability. We could do more to prevent an EU battlegroup from existing and attempting to overtake the role of NATO. We could create free trade agreements with new global partners and increase our ties with the Commonwealth. Yet, in order to achieve these things we will need a reinvigoration of Brexit that goes far beyond Theresa May’s anodyne speech on the second of March.
Currently, Brexit has no trajectory of which I, or many others who voted leave, can be proud. Brexit doesn’t just mean Brexit. Brexit isn’t an end in itself. As time marches on since that historic vote, those who voted for the Brexit of opportunity, internationalism, free trade and sovereignty must make their voices heard. It’s time for the bold, optimistic visionaries to set the agenda again.
Tamara Berens is a student at King’s College London.