The alarm clock broke the silence at 6 AM. Instead of automatically hitting the snooze button I shook off the webs of sleep and went straight to my Twitter news feed. I stared at the screen in disbelief.
Britain had voted to leave the European Union.
The result had left me stunned. As I spoke to many of my friends a common theme appeared. They were devastated.
Like thousands of other activists, I tried my best to put out the positive message for remain. The benefits of being in the largest economic trading bloc in the world with a GDP per head of £21,000 for its 500 million consumers. The ability to live and retire anywhere in the EU. The European Arrest Warrant. The European Court of Human Rights. Investment in science and universities. Peace.
Though today, the likes of Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen, Boris Johnson, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump were celebrating. Farage declared it as Britain’s independence day.
After a day of reflection, I posted the following on my Facebook page.
Today is a sad day in our history.
The pound has fallen to its lowest since I was born. Nigel Farage has already claimed the £350 million for the NHS was a lie. In the two hours the UK economy has lost $350 billion. The equivalent to 40 years of EU contributions.
Fear and division have won again.
The result is not what I wanted, the voice of the people should be respected because without democracy, what are we? Instead of blaming the people for not voting the way you did, we should now try to understand why more than half of our population are disillusioned with a union that has served us and the world so well.
Today is a new chapter for Britain. It is hard to find optimism in the face of isolationism but I will not give up. Brits don’t quit. I will continue to fight for our civil liberties, human rights and a Britain where logic and love trump ignorance and fear. A united Britain. A liberal Britain.
What now for the future of Britain?
Since that day the confidence in Britain’s economy has stumbled with the Pound Sterling falling against the Euro. Not one trade deal has been made. We have a new, unelected Prime Minister with no mandate or a plan for Brexit. Foreign governments warning that their businesses would move their headquarters to the mainland if the UK were to leave the Single Market. However, the worst part has been the rise of racist and xenophobic attacks.
UKIP being the catalyst behind the leave campaign had given racists the licence to believe they were superior to those who did not look or sound the same way they did. The amount of recorded racist attacks had risen dramatically since we voted to leave. It could be pointed back to the disgraceful poster that Nigel Farage launched that played on people’s fears. It changed the narrative of a humanity crisis to one of turning our back on our fellow human beings.
This was no longer the Britain I had grown to love and call my home.
I believe as a nation we need to do three things.
1.) Respect the Vote
There are many parallels to the American Civil War of 1861 of what is happening in modern Britain today. Siblings and friends are finding themselves on opposites side of our European Civil War. The 48% versus the 52%. Too many times have I heard of those losing friendships because neither was willing to back down on their principles. Remainers, why fight for an institution of peace when you are being hostile to your neighbours? Brexiteers, why fight for the solidarity of Britain when you dismiss the views of 48% of its population?
The country voted for us to leave and as a country we need to work together on what that means and not leave it to those who only wanted us to leave to further their careers.
I love Europe and I love what the European Union means to the countries that belong in it and I will never stop fighting for our role in Europe and across the world. We need to be open with each other. We know there were lies. The £350 million for the NHS. Countries queuing up to do better deals with us (we are still waiting for one). The immigration points-based system. Also, we must be loud in saying that the EU is not perfect. There is too much bureaucracy and reform is desperately needed.
We are not the 48% or the 52%. We are all 100% behind forging the best future for Britain.
2.) Reject Racism
Walking into Sainsbury’s for lunch I am distraught by the headlines that litter the front pages of the press. “Migrants Bring More Crime”. “Migrants Take All New Jobs in Britain”. “The Swarm on our Streets”. The list is endless. Instead of learning to be tolerant of those who are different, the population of this country are being brainwashed to hate. If someone is going through a rough patch in their lives and they are being told daily that their streets are no longer safe, taking all the jobs and invading our neighbourhoods, then instead of blaming the limited opportunities on those in power, the most vulnerable in our society are the targets.
Nelson Mandela once said, “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite”.
Education is the key in the battle against racism. Our country is too focused on a punishment system and though this is necessary it cannot be the only tool in this battle. Attending a Welsh school I was shocked at the open antagonism of English people, from both pupils and teachers. Despite some remarks being in jest, children are being taught at a young age of the “us versus them” mentality. Schools need to be the starting point in a young person’s development.
3.) Trust in Democracy
It was nearing the end of the Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference in Brighton and I was lacking sleep but not enthusiasm. Arriving early at the auditorium I managed to get a prime seat with my fellow Bristol Liberal Democrats waiting for Tim Farron’s speech. The conference was an uplifting experience with many alike minds giving their opinion on what would be the best future for Britain and Europe. This was the party of the pro-European movement and internationalists, united with its European allies. Tim Farron walked onto the stage to a standing ovation and laid out his plan for Brexit. Something that is lacking in both the Conservative and Labour parties.
Those people in Preston – and Sunderland and Newport – see a divide between those who win and those who lose. When the country is booming, they don’t see the benefit. And when the country is in decline they are the first to be hit. They talked about low wages. About poor housing. About strains on hospitals and schools.
Their problems weren’t caused by the European Union, they were caused by powerful people who took them for granted. By politicians who have spent decades chasing cheap headlines and short-term success for their political careers, and never acting in the long-term interests of the whole country.
So those people, like millions of others, wanted, quite understandably, to give the powerful a kicking. So they did.
I wanted Britain to remain in the European Union and I still do. But we have got to listen, to learn and to understand why millions of people voted to leave. We can’t just tell them they’re wrong and stick our fingers in our ears.
So I want to do two things. I want to persuade those who voted leave that we understand and respect their reasons, that we are determined to take head on the things about today’s Britain that have left so many people feeling ignored. And I want to give them their say over what comes next.
I am a democrat and we should never take that for granted. Tim made an important point in that speech, “if we trusted the people to vote for our departure then we must trust the people to vote for our destination.” The power should always be with the populace, so after all the lies, the lack of leadership from the Government and the realisation of this nation becoming an isolated, inward-looking country; the electorate should determine the stage for our new future. One that is open, tolerant and united.