The UK has formally triggered Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union and, once the negotiations are concluded, we shall no longer be members of a political institution that is increasingly fraught with problems.
The referendum campaign was in part supremely enjoyable, and in others, so frustrating it could drive a man to self immolation. But the key thing was that, for the first time I can remember, it felt like it mattered. This wasn’t a general election where a handful of marginal seats would change the outcome. Every single vote counted, and every person you spoke to mattered.
Nor was I the only one who felt this phenomenon. The sheer level of engagement, reflected in the turnout, made it clear that when people believe they can genuinely affect the outcome of politics, they sit up and take notice. That feeling of having control, of having a say over what happens to you, is an incredibly powerful thing, and it is ultimately what resulted in the vote to leave.
The elation I felt on the morning of June 24 is difficult to describe. I felt a real sense of achievement, and that my tiny corner of the internet, where I posted my thoughts and ramblings on the issue, where I debated and argued on Facebook and Twitter, or even the arguments I had with complete strangers over a pint in numerous beer gardens, had had an impact.
The aftermath, seeing the sheer cluelessness of our politicians on display, made this entirely bitter sweet. I am not even close to approaching anything like an expert, and there are others who blog about Brexit, outside of their day jobs, who are infinitely more informed than me. But watching our clueless MPs fumble their way through the brexit process has been screaming-at-the-TV levels of frustrating.
Nor are our media any different. One would think that given the magnitude of the occasion, political journalists and MPs, people whose jobs revolve around these things, would have a better grasp of the differences between the EU and the single market, the customs union, or the fundamentals of international trade, than a long-haired, part-time blogger from North Wales who spends as much time playing Mario Kart as he does reading the news.
It has been painfully obvious in the discourse following the result that this is not the case. Their ignorance means that Brexit will not be as harmless as it could have been. There was always arguably going to be a cost to leaving the EU, but that cost could have been reduced exponentially if our politicians had a firmer grasp of the situation. An economically neutral Brexit was possible, but in pursuing a wide-ranging, comprehensive free trade agreement within two years, May has made that all but impossible.
Whether it ends up being painful or not however, Brexit was never really about economics. Sure, being able to supplement our EU commerce with increased trade from the wider world was a key part of the argument, but had the referendum been fought on economics alone, leave would have lost by some margin.
Several polls have shown that sovereignty was the number one issue for voters in the referendum. Anecdotally too, even people I know who are largely disinterested in politics, were cowed by the argument that we should directly elect those who make our laws.
The desire for self-determination, for the UK government to be beholden to no-one but the citizens of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, is bigger and more important than how many euros you can buy for a pound or how expensive spanish apples are.
Yes, it’s likely that the ignorance of our political class means Brexit will hurt more than it needed to. But it is that ignorance that exemplifies why we needed to leave in the first place. Our politics and our democracy has atrophied for far too long after 40 years of outsourcing responsibility to technocrats on the continent.
Reclaiming control from those technocrats was essential, but we must work to ensure it’s not left in the hands of the very people who gave it away in the first place. The joy felt by having control of our destiny in the referendum campaign has given way to despair in feeling powerless to affect the decisions our politicians are currently taking that could result in a Brexit more damaging than it needed to be.
Regardless, today, I am supremely happy. We are officially leaving the European Union and regaining our sovereignty. It represents a victory for democracy and for self-determination, but it is only the first step. We may have removed one layer of remote government, but now we must work to regain the knowledge and capacity for the self-governance that it is painfully obvious we have let dwindle.
The referendum showed that when you give people the responsibility, they take notice, learn and engage. We’ve reclaimed responsibility for our governance, now our politicians must earn their money.