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EU's tough stance reinforces views of some Brexiteers
THE European Union's chief negotiator Michel Barnier has told British Prime Minister Theresa May that her parliament has rejected the EU's "best possible" deal.
This tough stance shows the EU's preference for a closer relationship with the UK, but it may be pushing eurosceptics further from the bloc.
Donald Clark of Brighton is one of those who voted "Leave" at the 2016 referendum and said that the lack of diplomatic compromise has tended to confirm his feelings. "If we ran a vote again, we would probably see a similar if not increased margin because we have seen how the EU behaves," he said.
Mr Clark, 62, does not fit mainstream media caricatures of the "Leave" voter who does not understand global politics or economics. An entrepreneur, investor and professor, he speaks logically about why he does not want the UK to be part of a "bureaucratic, undemocratic" entity.
"I think the big issue is the general feeling that the UK should not be part of something that is moving towards a super state," he added.
He has thought through the economics of the EU too. As the UK is not part of the eurozone, he said, it makes more sense for the country to have total control of its monetary and fiscal policies.
Most EU member states have joined a fiscal compact, committing to limits on debt or deficit for instance. The UK has not joined this compact, but has been a major contributor to the EU budget.
Mr Clark pointed out that European fiscal rules have tied the hands of many EU governments, with negative consequences for their economies. Examples include Greece and Italy, where youth unemployment rates are high and gross domestic product (GDP) growth has been weak.
Such moderate and thoughtful views on Brexit may be more common than mainstream media coverage has portrayed.
Steve Rayson, a 56-year-old entrepreneur, is also concerned with the EU's lack of democratic accountability. "At the level of the nation state, I can lobby my MP, campaign, protest, petition and ultimately vote to change the government. National governments are responsive to this pressure, and you can list hundreds of times when governments have changed policy in response to public pressure," he said.
"The EU commissioners are unelected and are not responsive to the electorate." Mr Rayson thought that this lack of responsiveness has contributed to the rise of right wing populism. The policies of EU's ruling elite have not distributed wealth equally, he pointed out. The result is that some segments of the population are increasingly left behind. For example, the lack of employment has forced youth in many eastern European countries to leave home.
"The powerlessness of EU citizens is a major cause for concern. I continue to believe it will lead people in their frustration to vote for extremist parties," he said. "I voted to leave to send a message to the EU that they need to change course and to respond to national populations."
Mr Rayson is not entirely against the EU, though. "My preference would be to stay in a reformed, more democratically responsive EU," he said. "I was hoping that the Brexit proposal might provoke that discussion and thinking in the EU but I don't see much of this."
There is room for the situation to change, as conversations around EU policy turn more critical.
Italy's expansionary budget, which contravenes EU rules, has received nods from citizens and even economists. Protests in France could push President Emmanuel Macron into a similar spending position, which may force EU politicians to rethink their positions.
Meanwhile, in Hungary, Romania and Poland, eurosceptic politicians have pushed back against EU policies on immigration, legislation and the judiciary.
At least one British voter said that he has recently changed his mind on the EU. Mr Clark's son Callum, a 25-year-old software developer, voted to remain and said that he was genuinely shocked by the result of the referendum. It prompted him to do some research about the EU.
Unlike his father, who comes from a working-class background, Callum has had a middle-class upbringing. This, he said, shielded him from knowledge of the huge swathes of the British population that have been on the losing end of EU policies.
The EU's much-criticised common agricultural policy, for instance, disadvantages small farmers while putting money in the hands of wealthy land financiers.
More appallingly, Callum said, he realised that he had little idea before this how the EU worked. And, he said, his peers remain in the dark.
"It's incredibly frustrating. People will say vote remain for very shallow reasons - so they can go backpacking in Europe. But they haven't done any research. They can't tell me the difference between the European Commission and the European Parliament," he said.
Michelle Kundodyiwa, a 22-year-old student who voted "Remain", thought that such views are too pessimistic. "No governing body or international organisation will ever be amazing or do all the right things. I see the EU as a body that fights international crime," she said.
While she would not rule out voting for leaving the EU over real disadvantages eventually, she disagreed with the premise of the "Leave" campaign's focus on immigration and taking back control.
The pain of accepting immigrants, she argued, should be weighed against the rights of refugees to live in a better environment. "The EU guarantees equal rights," she said. "Plus, we are better together."