Reflections on the referendum in Britain – My views on the vote to leave the European Union

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Given a couple of days have passed (although chaos still reigns over British politics), I have had some time to consider my thoughts on the referendum, its outcome and how to move forward. As many of you will be able to guess, I am very upset although not especially surprised at the result (damn my relentless pessimism). However, rather than sit here cursing wildly into the air, it is more productive to offer ideas and begin discussion about how best to move forward.

What our politicians should do:

We now find ourselves in very uneasy waters regarding trade. It is vital that we work to secure non exploitative trade deals with friendly states as soon as possible. We must pile pressure on our MPs to pledge to reject any repackaging of the TTIP deal or any similarly exploitative agreements. Britain must use its freedom from the EU’s external tariffs as a selling point to entice the rest of the commonwealth and states such as India and South Korea to create a trade network quickly to ensure leverage against any exploitative imposition from larger economies (namely the US).

Britain must also move as quickly as possible to forge trade deals with the global south, this is a good opportunity to entice trade on fairer grounds (we will no longer be bound by the EU’s one sided rules with the global south, such as on the trade of refined coffee), allowing not only us to build our trade network but also allow many states in the global south to expand their economies outside of the primary resource industry. As we do this we must keep pressure on our politicians to ensure as many protections against exploitation at all levels as possible.

What we as the electorate can do:

We must rebuild discourse around what the British nationality and national identity is. This referendum was decided on rhetoric of what the British identity is. The rhetoric is that the British nationality is fixed and that those who come to Britain cannot join this nationality, they are ‘others’ and must be treated as such. We must move to build a narrative of the British nationality as a diverse, tolerant and welcoming one based on allegiance to the British territory and willingness to participate in the society within, not based on birth rights, physical attributes or cultural practice. I believe British nationality must be based on civil society and not primordial ethnonationalism.

Furthermore, we must work to understand the concerns of those who voted leave so that we can work to incorporate them within an internationalist vision of Britain. Many voted to leave based on arguments around immigration not because they are racist or xenophobic, but because they feel that they and their family’s quality of life has been reduced due to pressure on public services and the labour market. We must convince everyone that many of these factors are down to failures of our domestic government to sufficiently support public services and encourage investment, and that they are the ones who need to be held to account, not immigrants. Only once this and the previous point have been achieved we will finally defeat the current anti-immigration and scapegoating narrative.

We must celebrate political participation and build upon it. Many activists within this referendum have done an incredible job in engaging many within society who would not normally be politically active. We must expand and build upon this and encourage a respectful and welcoming environment that entices many more to becoming engaged with politics and campaign for causes that are dear to them, no matter what our own views on those causes are. We must condemn anyone who feels it acceptable to belittle those who subscribe to politics that they do not share. Respectful and honest discussion and debate are the best paths forward to ensure a stronger civil society.

Reflections on the campaigns themselves:

On the whole the campaigns have been vitriolic and rhetoric driven. This is unfortunate, as this referendum could have been a wonderful opportunity to allow for widespread discussion on a number of important issues, from economics to national identity. What pains me the most is this was completely unnecessary, yet the cheap tactics of both campaigns ruined the atmosphere of the referendum and turned it into one of the nastiest episodes of recent British political history. I do however feel blessed that I have been able to meet and engage with so many fantastic and dedicated activists on both sides at the campaigns grass roots levels who have acted with upmost dignity; witnessing and participating in some of the most fun debates I have ever experienced. I hope all these activists continue campaigning for other issues, and hopefully then we can move to a more respectful political discourse within civil society.

I will not comment in detail on what has happened to the LabourIN campaign and the treachery of Corbyn’s wing of the PLP, but I am furious to say the least, and today’s events show I am not alone. I feel deeply for the good people within LabourIN who have been betrayed, and the good people of Labour Leave, who have been tarnished by the actions of a few unfortunately powerful individuals.

Reflections on the results:

I do not think this is the end of the world. I am certainly pessimistic about the future, but if it is the thought out and convincing arguments of grassroots Brexit that I have heard, rather than the cheap rhetoric of certain political factions, that decides future policy then there are opportunities to build upon and we may see a future Britain in as good a position as she is now internationally.

I am also of very mixed feelings about the petition to hold a second referendum, as well as threats from the Scottish National Party to veto Brexit, and the Liberal Democrats announcement that they will campaign regardless for Britain to remain a member of the European Union. Whilst I sincerely hoping that by some magic I could wake up to find time turned back a couple of days and a victory for the remain campaign, these petitions/declarations do not sit well with my principles of supporting democracy. I feel it will be quite some time before I can truly be certain of where I stand on these issues.

As a final, and unfortunately negative note, the conduct of an alarming number of individuals on social media has been sickening. Vindictive attacks, senseless ad hominem and mindless insults directed at all the wrong people. Emotion is understandably running high, and the last couple of days have been tough for everyone, but these actions and attitudes will lead to absolutely no progress. We should direct our anger at the politicians who have failed us, the media who has mislead us and the agitators who have deliberately divided us. If we allow our emotions to dictate how we interact with others at a grass roots level, we will never achieve a civil society that we can be proud to live in, and rhetoric will rule political discourse and benefit no one.

Despite all the chaos and all the uncertainty I know one thing for sure. Whether or not I am a member of a supranational organisation like the EU, I will always be a European as well as British.


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