For the first time, I heard intelligent arguments as to why Brexit might be the best thing for Britain – even if I didn’t agree with them...
This month’s column was brought on by an encounter with some old schoolmates, meaning people I went to school with 35 years ago. One of them was getting remarried this summer and arranged to have his stag do in Barcelona, which entailed seven middle-aged men coming here for the weekend to let off some steam before the wedding. I know what you’re thinking, “Oh no, not another group of badly behaved drunken Brits on the streets of Barcelona”. ‘Cos there’s no shortage of that, if we’re honest. But no, these were the kind of tourists Barcelona is happy to receive: staying in a four-star hotel and spending lots of money doing all the popular tours – the Camp Nou, tapas, etc. – accompanied by a peaceful wander around the bars; in other words, leaving a whole load of cash behind without making a nuisance of themselves. I put this down to them being well-educated and well-heeled middle-aged men, as opposed to certain other types of tourist we have become accustomed to since the low-cost airline boom. No budget travel here, as you will realise when I tell you we paid 200 euros just for a return taxi to Vallromanes to have lunch and play some golf on the Saturday afternoon. None of which is why I’m telling you this story, it’s just to set the scene.
What shocked me when I met the seven of them in their hotel lobby on the Saturday morning was what happened when the topic turned to Brexit: I was fully expecting all of them to be pro-remain, i.e. not in favour of Brexit. Looking back, I can’t think why though. I suppose I was thinking that anyone with the capacity for intelligent thought – and they certainly had that, some of them working in prestigious London companies, another a doctor and the others all professionals – would not have voted Brexit. How wrong I was. And how arrogant on my part. In fact, only one of them had not voted to leave the EU, and not only that, but the leave voters still retained strong arguments for doing so, even given all the harm Brexit is augured to do the UK. For the first time, I heard intelligent arguments as to why Brexit might be the best thing for Britain – even if I didn’t agree with them – and more importantly the repeated sentiment that these men wanted to reclaim their sovereignty. “Much like Catalonia” was how one of them put it later. You see, I’d taken the opportunity to bring them up-to-date on “the Catalan issue” and explain why there is a strong movement in favour of separating from Spain, with arguments also based on economics on the one hand and national identity on the other.
I’d never given any thought before to the notion that Brexit might actually have something in common with Catalan independence, because to my mind it doesn’t, given that the UK wants to leave the EU and oust as many foreign residents as possible, whereas Catalonia wants to remain within Europe, but as its own nation, and is happy to welcome allcomers. Two very different quests for sovereignty , then.