2019 will, of course, be the year that we stop Brexit – but it is wrong to think that our work as Remain campaigners will stop there. There is a huge amount that still needs to be done to heal the divisions in our country and move forward to a place where we can pursue a more constructive dialogue with people that disagree with us.
When we get our People’s Vote on Brexit – and I am sure that we will because there is no other way to solve the impasse in Parliament – it is imperative that we make the positive case for the European Union, but this will be just the beginning of an ongoing narrative that we must sustain. Because stopping Brexit will be nought but a sticking plaster on the fundamental problem which has caused it: The Eurosceptic narrative that has dominated the media in the UK for the last 45 years and the failure of our schools to educate citizens about UK and EU government.
Of course, Remain winning a second referendum is not a given. But regardless of the outcome of a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal, we must continue to educate, inform and work to change the hostile culture and attitude we have had to Europe for far too long in this country. For we will never truly be part of Europe until we learn to celebrate our European identities and all the benefits that EU membership brings to our lives as citizens.
Brexit is a categoric and catastrophic mistake – let’s make no bones about it – but if it has to happen because in a second referendum it is still “the will” of our tragically misinformed and deceived electorate, then we continue to make our arguments and we lead the campaign to rejoin the European Union. It is always worth fighting for the values you believe in, regardless of your chances of success.
And it is for this reason I actually have admiration for activists with opposing values to my own – At least they have not fallen victim to apathy – They are campaigning with passion for what they believe. It is always necessary in a democracy to challenge each other’s views in a civilised discourse and through constructive dialogue reach compromise that serves the interests of the many, not the few. You might disagree with someone about the change that we should strive for – but you must respect them for striving to achieve it – because there is always change to be achieved that can make the World a better place. The disaffection of modern society is in some ways our greatest shame because it shows a lack of care for other individuals, our communities and our society as a whole.
I was recently criticised for confronting a far right activist, James Goddard, the man who harassed Anna Soubry in the street, saying, ‘your on the side of Hitler’. He invited me to speak with him and I felt it was important to confront them with my arguments, despite the fact he had earlier referred to me as a “fucking annoying cunt”. But I believe quite passionately that we must engage in a civilised debate with people who disagree with us, and when they go low, we rise above it and lead the discourse by example. If we turn the other cheek, to show that we are compassionate and empathetic, it gives them no ammunition that they can respond to and forces them to engage on our terms or not at all.
Conversely, if we don’t listen to their arguments and fail to find the common ground, the divide in this country will never heal. We must listen to what others have to say and calmly challenge their arguments with civility and understanding, because we need to start a constructive, democratic discourse in this country. Expressing hate and anger, showing contempt or disdain for people that disagree with us, acting with superiority and denying them a voice is actually counter-productive, it facilitates tribalism and will only further the divide. We need to work together to solve the causes of our conflict and heal our dis-United Kingdom.
Many times, it is easy to find agreement about the problems and their causes with people with whom we disagree on how to solve them; Key issues like; The NHS, homelessness, our schools, poverty and regional inequality. The utter stupidity of the 2016 referendum is that a binary question was posed about an issue which is so much more complex. The result is the British people, families, friends have been pitted against each other and forced to chose either side of completely unnecessary divide. The truth is that there are many shades of grey between extreme Remain and extreme Leave, informed by people’s life experiences, values and understanding, and it must be acknowledged that many people have shifted their position since the vote in 2016. Above all, we need to stop identifying people as “Brexiters” and “Remoaners” and start listening to each other’s needs and aspirations.
Until we can have a civilised dialogue, the reconciliation process can not begin. I personally believe that another vote, a “final say” on Brexit, is the only way to hold that conversation and to evaluate how the British people now feel about the future we should be moving towards.
So I wish everyone a happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year and a chance to have a final say on the future we want for the country we proudly call our home.