The human mind likes to characterise things by putting them into specific baskets as either one thing or another. Like the old cowboy movies, where good guys wore white hats and bad guys wore black hats, you knew where you were and who to cheer and who to boo. Most things are not really like that however, there is more of a continuum from one end of a spectrum to another. At what point does a rainbow stop being red and start being yellow? At what point does mist become fog? (Okay, you got me on that last one)
Certain political topics however, seems to deny the existence of a continuum. No matter what your views you have to place them into one basket or the other. In that respect, politics can turn into more of a religion: (Matthew 12:30, “whoever is not with me is against me…”). Of all the political topics currently Brexit seems to be the most polarised. You are either with the “will of the people” or you are a “remoaner” and there’s nothing in between. Even question a single point and you are immediately classified as the enemy (definitions of enemy vary).
Well I am in between, so there. I have specific views on the holding and conduct of the referendum and the politicians involved but I don’t have any great longing to remain in the EU or indeed to come out. Given the balance of where we are I believe Brexit is a bad idea simply because of how it has been handled and what could be the consequences if the political incompetence of the past continues into the future. But the moment I say anything that could perceivably disagree with any detail, no matter how small, from one side or the other, I immediately get thrown into the opposite basket of opinion. I questioned someone on Twitter recently who was certain that the referendum campaign gave a clear mandate to leave the single market. The Twitter storm that followed just added further evidence to my point (I was accused of suffering from “chronic socialism”, which I admit was somewhat amusing).
My reasons for believing Brexit was more about political incompetence are at least founded on the facts of recent events and then I’ve extrapolated an opinion from there. This is a somewhat different approach to what might be called my general philosophy of life, which is based less upon facts rather than … well, philosophy. I do believe that we are better cooperating together than we are separating ourselves apart from other nations and withdrawing behind a drawbridge pulled up over the English Chanel. In our modern connected world some sharing of sovereignty seems inevitable. On the other hand I see the arguments surrounding EU federalism - it's a matter of personal judgment as to how much sovereignty versus federalism you can accept.
So why do I sit on the fence when it comes to EU membership? The answer, it turns out, is simple. As the UK approached the referendum and certainly thereafter, I wanted to understand more about the EU and the UKs relationship with it. I therefore read a lot of articles, from both sides of the debate. Following the referendum result I read two books: Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now? and Well, You Did Ask. Why the UK voted to leave the EU. The first is by the journalist, Ian Dunt, who is pro EU and the latter is by the Conservative MP, Michael Ashcroft, who is in favour of Brexit. The arguments surrounding the EU are predominantly political, legal and economic but overwhelming most of all, and as the aforementioned books will attest, the arguments are enormously complex (despite a recent article in the Telegraph ).
The entanglement of EU and domestic law, the interaction of different institutions, the interplay of international economics is mind-boggling complicated. To misquote Richard Feynman, “if you think you understand the EU, then you don’t understand the EU.”
I am a scientist by training and nature and if there’s one thing a scientist learns very quickly - it’s okay to say “I don’t know.” It is one of those known unknowns (if that’s not too Rumsfeld-like). Given the complexity of the EU then I don’t think I can possibly say I understand much of it. If I don’t understand it, then it’s hard for me to have a strong opinion. On the other hand, there are many who know even less about the EU than I do but nevertheless seem utterly certain of their position. This brings to mind a quote from Charles Bukowski, “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubt while the stupid people are full of confidence.” But this will probably seem a little elitist.