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Farewell to the EU - it's a move to regret but we have to face up to our new era

PUBLISHED: 05:30 06 February 2020 | UPDATED: 06:19 06 February 2020

Union flags come down after last Friday's Brexit celebration in Parliament Square - now the hard work on negotiations starts. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Union flags come down after last Friday's Brexit celebration in Parliament Square - now the hard work on negotiations starts. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

The UK is no longer formally a member of the EU - but in actual fact it remains tied very closely to Brussels for the next 11 months and quite what will happen then is still up in the air.

The exact moment of departure last week was a moment of ecstasy for some, a moment of misery for others. And a "so what" moment that either wasn't marked or was watched by bemused indifference by the vast majority of the British public.

I really didn't feel any great emotions. I still feel regret that we voted to leave and that we are no longer an official part of the EU. I think it was the wrong decision, a decision that - in time - more and more people will regret.

And I think that in the 2030s there may well be another referendum that will take us back into the EU (this time accepting the euro and possibly as members of the Shengen area).

But that is not a battle for today, and it is not one I want to spark. If it happens and I am still alive (although inevitably retired) I may want to take part. Or I might just sit at home yelling at my television screen as all the arguments are regurgitated.

I do feel regret, though, because I've always felt that being part of the European Union was a positive element of this country's life.

As a teenager in the 1970s it was the dream that kindled my interest in politics. I have never understood the objections to a United States of Europe - to me that has always been the logical conclusion of the project that has brought us now to the EU.

My teachers and people I knew as a child had all had experience of the horrors of war, whether fighting themselves or on the Home Front. My history teacher once told us that he had not been fighting the Germans - he had been fighting the Nazi government. When he had to help guard some German prisoners in North Africa he (and his comrades) recognised they were frightened young men obeying orders (just like most of the British soldiers).

They understood that membership of a European economic body, as well a defence body like NATO, was vital to the preservation of peace. That was one of the main reasons why the 1975 referendum provided such a decisive vote in favour of staying in the EEC.

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That same history teacher told us after the vote was announced that when we were his age we'd be in what Churchill had advocated, a United States of Europe. Oh well, you can't win them all!

And the fact is we are now out. I don't have a great issue with the fact that a tiny minority of the public decided to either celebrate the fact. I regret that some of the victors tried to rub their opponents' noses in the fact that we're out and that some of the defeated wanted to try to guilt-trip the leavers into believing that they had done something terrible.

Now we've got 11 months to sort out how the UK will work with the EU from the start of 2021 - and judging from the early skirmishes this week both sides will be playing hardball.

There is much talk about "Canada-style" deals or "Norway-style" deals by the end of the year. This is totally unrealistic - the UK economy is very different to either given its size and geographical proximity to the EU.

There is unlikely to be any wide-ranging deal agreed with the EU by the end of the year - any such overall deal is likely to take much longer to negotiate.

But I do expect to hear that the two sides have negotiated individual deals on crucial issues that will be able to ensure that we can trade with and visit each other reasonably easily once the transition period has ended.

Among these will be fishing where both sides are very shouty at the moment.

A couple points to remember on this: the UK fishing industry is very small and despite what is said, there isn't a great clamour to expand rapidly. Many of those who used to go to see fishing are now going to sea to service the offshore energy industry.

More than half the fish caught in UK waters by the UK fishing fleet is actually exported to EU countries - the UK market for herring, mackerel, and monkfish isn't that great and most cod and haddock is caught from international or Icelandic waters in the North Atlantic (Iceland is not in the EU). Will the fishing industry want to go to war with the EU if it risks losing its biggest market?

Politicians may be playing to the gallery on fishing and many other negotiations with the EU over the next few months - but they know deals are needed for both sides to prosper and I don't think either side will want to risk unnecessary conflict.

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