No regrets about choosing to leave the EU

In my part of England, in a market town called Grantham that gave the world Mrs Margaret Thatcher and Sir Isaac Newton, our resounding vote to leave the European Union (EU) struck a blow against an organisation that cared little for our past and so deserved no stake in our future.

Forget the talk of a close vote. This county of leafy Lincolnshire was one of the flag-bearers of anti-EU sentiment, with the neighbouring town of Boston polling 4-1 out, the highest margin across the country.

It was little surprise that there was already a queue when I arrived at the polling station ahead of its 7am opening time. This was our chance to finally speak and we were ready to take it. There have been no regrets since.

We have been called xenophobic, racist or just plain stupid. My Facebook page contained these insults and worse, some coming from close friends in crazed and uncharacteristic outbursts.

A housewife in Suffolk berated me about the ratings of international credit agencies, while a young colleague said she had never been more ashamed of her compatriots. Perhaps most surprisingly, a British friend based in Singapore - whose work across South-east Asia involves being a vocal advocate of democracy - was suddenly promoting petitions to have our own vote rejected.

Yet my own four years of working in the Republic, and six years in Bangkok before that, helped shape my own choice to ditch the EU. I had needed visas to work in both countries, and was rejected by Singapore before being accepted on appeal. At all times, I was aware that I was a guest whose presence was accepted on the basis that I could offer a positive contribution to the country.

I could not buy a house or land in Thailand. Being on an Employment Pass in Singapore meant my family was effectively restricted to the rental market. My wife, children and I lived in Housing Board flats in Toa Payoh and then Hougang, paying rent to the Singaporean families that owned them.

The EU has no such system. Uncontrolled immigration has been negative in this area and so many others like it. Since there are no restrictions on who can own property in the United Kingdom, or quotas on where people can live, areas have become distorted by a huge, unchecked influx from across Europe.

Perversely, this has caused problems for my own family. Faced with rumblings of discontent over European immigration, the British government increased fees and bureaucracy to try to deter those outside the EU from settling here.

My wife is Thai, a graduate and the mother of our three British children, but has less right to live in Britain than an uneducated, jobless Romanian who cannot speak a word of English.

We do not ask for special favours, we only want the system to be fair and based on merit and the EU has denied us that basic right.

Aside from my own personal gripes, there has been a very real change to the landscape that has not been welcomed by the community. Polish, Lithuanian and Latvian shops are spread across our town centre but few locals enter them. Most believe they do not add to our culture and instead exist to serve their own people with products we find neither exotic nor enticing.

That is in stark contrast to the Chinese and Indian restaurants that have a fond place in many British hearts and stomachs.

London may thrive on bright, young professionals eager to live in a cosmopolitan mix, but here, the EU's freedom of movement rules mean a neverending supply of cheap labour willing to work for less, and undermining the rights we fought for over so many generations. Tomorrow may have brought thousands more if we hadn't voted to stop the madness. Was it short- sightedness or self-protection? Maybe the answer depends on what it has done to your pocket.

We had become vulnerable. We had become angry. We saw headline figures about the gross domestic product, the value of the sterling and the stock market and we didn't see a connection with our lives among the flat farmers' fields here.

Prime Minister David Cameron went first, then Mr Boris Johnson, and others will surely follow. This clear-out has been good as we do not need people with doubts to take us forward again. The whole political class has been shaken and only the strong will emerge.

The swirling news of the pound dropping and volatility on the stock exchange was expected. Since most of the campaign to remain in the EU was based on fear of the unknown, the choice to leave means our resolve is strong.

One worrying aspect of the vote to leave is that it has emboldened the far right, who exist in this country as in any other. The voices previously consigned to dark corners are becoming louder, but will soon fall silent again. Far-right parties, like the UK Independence Party, were routed at the last general election, and our nation has a proud tradition of embracing diversity. It is only the EU's framework, and the loss of control of our own borders, that has stoked such feelings in the first place.

Without that antagonism, those preaching hate will have little to fuel their fire and will be ignored again. Since my wife is Asian and our children are Eurasian, my belief in this is not purely an academic conviction. We trust the ballot box to address our concerns.

Grantham once contained the humble greengrocer's shop that helped to create Mrs Thatcher, who went on to become the first female British prime minister.

Now, our vote may have helped to build the second, as Ms Theresa May is the favourite to lead the ruling Conservative Party. At last, we can look to the world again on our own terms. The future looks bright and we are ready to embrace the opportunity.

• Julian Turner is a former sub-editor with The Straits Times, who spent a decade in South-east Asia. The 43-year-old Briton was born in the Labour stronghold of Grimsby, Lincolnshire, and voted that way his entire adult life. Disillusioned with Labour's rejection of calls for a referendum on the EU vote, he switched allegiance to the Conservatives in the last election.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 03, 2016, with the headline 'No regrets about choosing to leave the EU'. Print Edition | Subscribe