Opinion: I once thought we should stay and reform an overburdened EU… now I’m not so sure

Original article written by Stephen Fear for the Bristol Post Newspaper on 7th August 2019 (also featured on Business-Live.co.uk on 21st August 2019).

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Stephen Fear, founder of international property company Fear Group, voted to stay in the EU – but is now uncertain he would do the same again.

Sitting on my roof terrace in Bristol the other evening I began thinking about how Brexit has divided families and communities across Britain.

Without doubt it has caused a heated debate, which currently shows no sign of going away.

The election of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister has added to the divide because he is taking such a firm stance regarding a no-deal solution to the impasse.

Bristol has been dubbed a ‘remain’ city but there are many people who voted leave.

I think Johnson will call a general election in mid September, providing he can agree a pact with Nigel Farage. And I believe he will win that election with a working majority.

I make no judgment on whether this is good or bad. I just believe an election will be called and Johnson will win.

Before the referendum in 2016, I was joined by my son and business partner, Leon Fear, and Nigel Farage and Stuart Wheeler, who was then UKIP’s treasurer, for a pie and a pint at the Guinea Pub in Mayfair.

Wheeler famously gave £5million to the Conservative Party before falling out with them because he donated £100,000 to UKIP.

This was just one in a series of private meetings Leon and I had with prominent politicians from all the major political parties.

Given that I was one of the first purchasers of the original European Newspaper, initially I felt that a market-focused, United States of Europe was a good idea.

As an entrepreneur, I felt access to more than 500 million people meant an easier ‘home’ market for my products and services. I also felt that as English is spoken around the world it would become the de-facto language of the European Union.

I firmly believed Britain would benefit exponentially from global businesses wishing to locate within the newly emerging trading bloc.

In that event I was proved right on all counts.

So in 2016, my first thought was that we should remain. But it was tainted by the fact that the EU had become a bloated, over-regulated, bureaucratic mess. Still, I thought we should remain and lead a total reform rather than abandon ship.

My thinking wasn’t that the EU ship was sinking, it was that it was so overburdened with regulation that it was laying low in the water.

Farage didn’t convince me to support or vote UKIP. He also failed to convince me that leave was the right option because in the end I voted remain.

Would I do so in any future referendum? I’m still thinking about that.

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