Yesterday afternoon, Ayesha Vardag discussed her Brexit dilemma with Eddie Mair of BBC Radio 4. The show was broadcast only hours after the latest twist in the Brexit saga: the resignation of the UK’s ambassador to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers.
Mair introduces “leading divorce lawyer” Ayesha as someone who was not “mad keen” on her vote but has now “tipped the other way”. Indeed, Ayesha’s feelings towards the EU referendum have wavered between Remain and Leave but she is now convinced that her cross next to ‘Leave’ was well placed.
In defence of her choice, Ayesha describes herself as “extremely pro-European” with a lifetime’s worth of love for European language, literature, film and travel. She even studied European Law and Politics in Brussels for her master’s degree. With this fondness for European culture, Ayesha regrets that her problem lies not with Europe, but with the EU.
On being asked what shaped her view of the EU, Ayesha gives two main reasons. Firstly that EU law has the power to erase the multitude of national identities within Europe which ought to be celebrated by not letting countries support their own suffering industries. Without the option of state aid, the EU allows struggling local industries to fail in order to invest in other, stronger industries in another country. In the effort to become one centralised country, the EU has undermined the independence of each individual nation.
Secondly, Ayesha objects to the idea that a large group of unelected bureaucrats, many of whom she has met, would be able to run Britain better than Britain could itself. Instead of protecting our sovereignty, Ayesha believes we have “sleep-walked into a United States of Europe” without seriously considering the risks.
With this strong argument for Brexit, Mair suggests that Ayesha voted Leave “very enthusiastically” but she instantly disagrees, saying “it wasn’t at all like that”. For Ayesha, there were huge disparities between her desire to leave the EU and the general Brexit sentiment. She states that “the other voices that were calling for Brexit were, to a great extent, voices with which I had no sympathy at all”. Crucially, Ayesha is pro free movement and anti-protectionist in her attitude towards the UK. For these reasons, Ayesha felt like ticking the Leave box was simultaneously an expression of what she most wished and feared for Britain. Despite her difficulty in finalising her vote, she justified her choice through the realisation that it was “the last chance” to have a say on UK sovereignty.
Interestingly, Ayesha admits that, had she been in England on polling day rather than posting her vote in advance from Italy, she may well have voted Remain after witnessing an unpleasant rise in British nationalism. Since she was walking such a fine line between the two camps, Mair asks Ayesha if she would have also regretted her choice had she voted Remain. Ayesha explains that after “long, dark weeks” of doubt following her vote to leave, she was finally reassured that she had made the right decision when she saw how the EU Commission behaved towards Theresa May. She stresses that, had she voted Remain, their “insulting” demeanour would have made her think “good grief, this is what we’re stuck with!”. Ayesha concedes that “there can be no good result”, but that the voting process should have been much more “nuanced” with three boxes, offering leave, leave but remain in the single market, and remain. Ayesha would, of course, have chosen the middle option with no hesitation.
In his final question, Mair taps into Ayesha’s career as a divorce lawyer. Stating “this is a divorce, isn’t it?”, he asks how Ayesha would advise the UK to heal the heartbreak. Ayesha accepts his metaphor commenting; “there are so many very real parallels with how one feels after divorce”. She explains that both Brexit and break-ups share a period of intense dissatisfaction twinned with a fear of change, then a sudden event triggers the decision to leave. Once out, both offer a brief period of excitement and empowerment but then the trepidation for the future returns with full force. Just as divorced couples start to reorganise their life and their relationships, Ayesha believes that Britain is on the path to get back on its feet after Brexit:
“I do think it’s important to be conciliatory and be forward-thinking and positive and I do think we should be saying to the rest of Europe, just as you should be saying to the spouse that you’re breaking up with … look, we want to work this out with you, we want to achieve something whereby we’re still going to be co-parenting our children in a fair way, we’re still going to be having the trade arrangements that benefit us all”.
To listen to the full show click here. Ayesha first appears at 33.20.