With Theresa May’s ‘meaningful vote’ failing by a margin that would be hilarious if she wasn’t the actual leader of our country, the United Kingdom is faced with a decision. In the words of The Clash, ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’
I am a young, liberal, middle class student. On this foundation, you would be likely to assume that I support Remain and, until relatively recently, you would have been correct. It’s not that I now support Leave. I don’t. I do understand the validity of many of the arguments used by experts and members of the public who voted for Leave, but I don’t agree with their somewhat idealised prediction of Britain outside the EU. This isn’t to say that I am correct, or even that I think I’m correct. I’m aware that this is an unexpected situation which is likely to yield unexpected results. This article is not intended as a lecture, or a raging polemic against Leave voters: there are enough of those already. In giving my opinion, my hope is that others will question their viewpoints and start productive conversations with those once thought of as the ‘enemy’.
Recently, I watched Brexit: The Uncivil War. It was a well-written film, with a great cast, and a brilliant story line. But I’d recommend that you don’t watch it. Why? Because no matter how you feel about the EU, it hits you in the face with the reality of what you supported and continue to support. The film centres around the failures of both campaigns, though mostly that of Leave. Watching politicians play with the future of our country as nothing more than a game that they wanted to win was painful at the best of times. You could say that the message of the film was that politicians are all evil and the world’s a pretty fucked up place. However, if you’re looking for a bit of nuance, I’d say the message I took from the film was something I already knew but had been avoiding. You can’t ignore the other side. You can’t ridicule them. You can’t tell them that they’re wrong. You can’t endorse division. You can’t assume your point of view is the only valid point of view. It doesn’t work in politics or society, and it will come back to bite you.
David Lammy’s speech in the Commons on January 10th was a brilliant demonstration of how to build an argument around the perspective of the ‘other side’, accepting and critiquing it instead of bluntly labelling all those who disagree with you as ‘wrong’. In short, Lammy argued that the people Labour were told they should have been looking after by supporting Brexit – miners, farmers, etc. – would not be looked after by Brexit at all. These groups were exploited by rich figures such as Boris Johnson, who used the Leave campaign more as a challenge than a serious political issue. Having watched Brexit: The Uncivil War, the message of the speech resonated with the frustrations that I had taken away from the film, and I felt sure that any of those who were ‘lied to’ that watched this speech would see the light and realise that Brexit would not benefit them.
I was, as people usually are about things like this, completely wrong. One of the first comments I saw on the video (I usually avoid comment sections on political posts as a means of self-care, but I hoped to find something uplifting there) was from a supporter of Leave, who stated ‘don’t patronise me’. Once again, I was faced with my own idiocy. It was like being handed back an essay and realising I’d read the question as ‘Breakfast’ instead of ‘Brexit’. The toast was delicious for me, but it was in no way, shape, or form what my supervisor wanted. Once again, I had made assumptions about the point of view of the ‘other side’ without thinking about anything other than my own views obviously being right. Obviously, anyone who voted Leave on the assumption that their voices were finally being heard would realise that this was not true. Obviously, Leave supporters were not thinking of what’s best for them. But I didn’t realise that I was obviously not questioning my own views. I had completely ridded the audience I was hoping would be reached of any autonomy by dictating how they should think, instead of how they do.
There are many ways you can argue for a second referendum. The 52-48 split did not give a clear majority; both sides lied during their campaigns; people didn’t know the version of Brexit they were voting for. The latter of those arguments is almost embarrassingly condescending, even if true. However, I am convinced. Am I only convinced because I’m on Remain’s ‘side’? Will the other ‘side’ be convinced? Or will they feel their voices being stolen from them, again? Before now, I probably would have jumped at the chance of a second referendum and a dismantling of Brexit. Now, I’m not so sure. No matter how much I want to remain in the EU, or how obvious I think it is that the UK’s attempts to leave with any kind of ‘good deal’ is nigh-impossible, I can’t help but think of how I would feel if it was the other way around. If I had voted Remain, then the government turned around and said that remaining wasn’t going to work so they’d have another referendum and continue to do so until they got their desired result, how would I feel? If I was already feeling left behind by the European establishment, would I register a turn-around as anything other than a disregard for my vote and, worst of all, my opinion?
Maybe there is no ‘good’ way to talk about Brexit. Maybe everything that I can write on this issue is so tangled in my own views that it will come across as toxic and patronising. But even if that is the case for me – and everyone else – I don’t think we should stop talking about it. Read this and think about what you want. Call me a snowflake, say my arguments make no sense, tell me what you think. Do absolutely anything other than give up on having these difficult conversations. If we want politicians to stop squabbling like children in a playground and actually work together on what is one of the biggest issues this country has faced in decades, maybe we need to give them a helping hand by showing that we, their constituents, are willing to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations for the good of the United Kingdom. Then again, if you’ve ever forced yourself through the excruciating half an hour that is the PMQs, you know that this is probably an unrealistic goal.