Lesley McLeod: Brexit break-up just the start as UK perpetrates an act of wilful self-harm

When Neil Sedaka sang about breaking up being hard to do, he clearly wasn’t forecasting Brexit – or even Harry and Meghan – but his song could be my anthem for the ­current situation between the United Kingdom and our continental cousins, neighbours and partners.

Breaking up is hard to do, whether that be severing ties with our European allies, or Harry and Meghan cutting themselves free of royal pressure and the devil is always in the details. Picture: Daniel Leal-Olivas, WPA Pool/Getty Images)

I know the construction professionals who make up the membership of the Association for Project Safety ­represent the whole rainbow of views about the UK’s former membership of the European Union. The association is officially neutral as a result. This lament is, therefore, all my own.

In my heart I am a European – always was, always will be. When I came back from a New Year break in Greece at the start of the month, I defiantly walked through the EU nationals line at Customs and nearly wept with loss and frustration that Brexit will be upon us before my next birthday at the beginning of February.

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I have lived most of my life within the EU and it has been good to me. I have made lasting friendships in Brussels, Dublin and Amsterdam as well as Budapest and Paris through collaboration with colleagues in pan-European trade bodies.

I believe immigration is good thing, adding much-needed skills and experience to homegrown talent. I have benefited from free movement, travelling widely all over Europe and have ­studied its history – and Scotland’s place in its story. I own a house in Greece.

Many – really, now very many – years ago I was part of what was then called the Young Workers in Europe programme designed to ­foster ­positive relationships and understanding with counterparts and ­colleagues across Europe.

I spent a very happy time in ­Saarbrucken in Germany and got to see how some of the European institutions actually work – as opposed to how they are often reported to operate. I went down a mine, visited a hydroelectric dam in Luxembourg and sampled wine on the Mosel – or even the Moselle, depending what side of the river you were on. I got there because I had written an essay about why I believed European co-operation was a way of ensuring peace in a scary world and of forging an economic block to rival the mass of the USA and the potential of the Far East.

I believe those things still. While I am everything a typical Remainer could be – middle-class, liberal-educated, a dove rather than a hawk – I am also fiscally right-wing and I believe in governments operating in a prudent and prudential way creating opportunities for their citizens to prosper. Although I fear the UK is ­perpetrating an act of wilful self-harm which will have no adverse impact on those promoting leaving the EU while disproportionately affecting many of the people who voted to leave, I also believe it is futile to keep whining on about the dream that is gone.

We have to play the hand we’re dealt. As Malcolm says in the ‘Scottish Play’, ‘… nothing in his life became him like the leaving it’ and my view is that the UK will now be defined by the exit deal it delivers. We need to avoid, in a rush for the door, ‘throwing away the dearest thing… as ‘twere a careless trifle’.

Now is the time for pragmatism. But I am finding it hard to find. For me the key areas are trade, workers, and cross-border co-operation. The country must address how it trades goods and services with our biggest partner so access is quick, easy and as seamless as possible.

I remember wandering around the markets in Lyon and Barcelona where Scottish langoustines are piled fresh and plentiful and realising delays at any border would raise more than a metaphorical stink. I’ve worked in financial services and know we’ve to fight to retain the ­business – be that in Edinburgh or London.

The UK must also value those ­coming to live and work here while making proper arrangements for those still seeking employment in sectors as diverse as construction or caring, education or medicine. And the country needs to find ways to share research and intelligence to secure both long-term prosperity and peace.

Selfishly, I want to keep travelling without, as it says on my passport – whatever its colour – ‘let or ­hindrance’. I can’t pretend I like Brexit but the break-up itself is just the start. We can’t say, “this is the end. Think of all that we’ve been through and breaking up is hard to do.”

Lesley McLeod, CEO, Association For Project Safety