The impact of one vote at the polling station has caused a lasting and damaging impact on our society to create two distinct and divided “tribes” between, on the one hand, those who voted to remain in the European Union and, on the other, those who wanted to leave.
Though it’s nearly two years since that vote, whatever happens through negotiations, the result of this poll has left a bitter stain on human relationships. As soon as you meet someone now, you are wondering, should I dare to say something in relation to Brexit, just in case they are from the other camp. As soon as the subject is mentioned, warm, friendly and close relationships can ignite into an atmosphere of animosity. It seems we are all now labelled to belong to either one camp or the other. There was no “in between” or “half way” vote. Crudely it was Remain or Leave. The decision to call a vote was bound to create two groups who would in principle disagree about such an important result in their lives, even though they may not have realised all the factors involved and what the result would mean for them personally.
Of course, there has always been division in the U.K. between different tribes. For example, there has always been economic division between rich and poor, in industry between those in management and employees, between the university educated and those who went to work straight from school, between those who passed the 11 plus and went to grammar schools and those who failed and found themselves leaving a secondary modern school at the age of fifteen, and even between the age groups of the old, the middle aged and the young.
But it’s difficult to compare another event in our recent history that has been so divisive and that competes on this scale of division, causing such a deep rift. Perhaps we should compare this with the Vikings and Anglo Saxons in the 9th and 10th centuries or the creation of two distinct classes of citizen, Norman and Saxon after the invasion of William The Conqueror in 1066. Then, in the 16th and 17th centuries, the reformation in the 1530s created a religious divide between Catholics and Protestants, surviving now only in geographical areas, such as Northern Ireland.
However much the politicians, together with those who voted on the winning side, preach the lesson of “Unite” because “the decision is made,” and “there’s no going back,” or “we just have to accept the will of the people”, it’s very difficult for the losing 48% of Remain voters, who still feel passionately about being European to simply let it go or forget it and carry on as if nothing has happened. With all other personal political votes, in a democracy, there is always hope in the future that, at the next election, the result can be reversed, even though this may take as long as five years. But this referendum vote was unique because there was no “next time.” We are told that this is final and that there’s no going back or reversal of the “democratic” decision
After the vote, we are all now learning from the media the full and detailed implications of the nation’s decision. The list is a long one. The economics of a large payment to the E.U. and the potential effect on the financial sector. In industry and agriculture, there is an uncertainty and inability to plan for their future. Despite reassurances, regulations concerning foreign residents here and UK citizens residing in Europe have still not been formally agreed and there are no arrangements yet for all those travelling through our new “controlled borders.” Though we are told there must be a solution to the Border in Ireland, the practicalities are yet to be described.
Beyond all these and many more practical results to discover at the end of the current negotiations, perhaps there will remain a more fundamental change in our society. For many years, the U.K. can be congratulated for its success in welcoming those from the empire, the colonies and fellow European states to settle and integrate into our communities, with surprisingly few problems.
But are we now on the threshold of a new era, to close the many improving chapters towards an open society. When siblings, members of the same family and close friends or colleagues dare not mention in conversation what they really think and feel about this monumental change to our nation, for fear of argument, abuse or any form of discord, what effect will that have on harmonious relations between us? When introduced to a newcomer, will there invariably be a repeated question in our mind behind every hand shake, with a hint of suspicion, wondering which side they are on. If their “colours” on Brexit are then revealed, how much will this become a judgement on their character resulting in potentially important decisions being changed.
Many would claim that the intention of Brexit was to unite us as a nation by restoring “sovereignty,” and making us independent of European influences, to rediscover the Britain that we lost with our empire. In attempting to turn the clock back by rejecting our membership of Europe, have we not taken a risk in opening a new wide chasm of division in our nation? By emphasizing what divides us from our neighbours rather than the numerous opportunities to unite us, have we not risked creating an internal division by placing Remainers and Leavers into two separate camps to create a two tribes nation?
Nicholas Prosser. Aldwick W. Sussex Nicholas.Prosser@gmail.com