News / The EU referendum has exposed divisions that need fresh responses

The EU referendum has exposed divisions that need fresh responses



24 / 06 / 16

Phil-Champain-portrait-200x200Phil Champain, 3FF Director

So, we have decided to leave the European Union.

The arguments and debates have been fierce. Those encouraging us to ‘take back control’ facing off to those urging ‘better together.’

There is little doubt that this vote has shown how yesterday’s arrangement with the EU was not working for many in our society. At the same time, there is a big truth to the idea that we are ‘better together.’ Believing in this has been a strong motivation for many who went to the ballot box.

Three key interrelated fears, of immigration, economic insecurity and exclusion from decision making, have arguably been at the forefront for many people. For others, whilst recognising the flaws of the EU, there is a strong feeling that in order to improve our society, to tackle the serious challenges we face, we should not isolate ourselves.

The close 52%/48% split in the vote has highlighted the tensions between these two sentiments – the need to feel our own interests are being taken seriously, and the need to work with others to achieve our aspirations. Both are required if we are to build a better, fairer, more inclusive society. The outcome of the referendum suggests that in the UK we are falling someway short of creating the conditions whereby both these needs can be met sufficiently.

The challenge now is how to craft the opportunities we need to address our fears without deepening the divisions that the vote points to. Opportunists will seek to use and manipulate the situation. Others may jump straight for policy responses, missing the point that in order to move forward we need to have what are clearly difficult conversations.

In particular, the referendum campaign played on people’s fears around immigration, polarising views in a way that has narrowed the space for more balanced discussions about the value of difference and diversity.  It is critical that we now challenge the idea that immigrants are ‘the problem’ and that somehow all will be fine if the gate is locked. Economic and political exclusion is more complex than this and it is irresponsible to think otherwise.

Clear, firm and enlightened leadership is needed. If young people are to inherit a ‘better Britain’, (and we would be wise to remember that an overwhelming majority of 18-24 year olds were in favour of Remain), then we need to better understand the tensions that this divisive referendum has pointed to and develop responses that build a fairer and more inclusive society together.  Crucially, we need to equip young people with the skills they need to create such a society themselves.

The tragedy of Jo Cox’s murder became a touchstone for the call for unity. The worrying implication of this campaign is that our politicians, leaders and politics are seemingly unable hold together the idea that our different interests can best be met through carefully considered collaboration rather than through fear stoked division. More than ever we need a more positive political dialogue. One that does not duck the fears that many of us clearly feel, and provides the engagement, vision, imagination and ideas that will appeal to a significant proportion of us.

The need for pragmatic, constructive dialogue is now set within the parameters of a Britain exiting the EU and all the upheaval and change that will come with the transition. 3FF will continue to play its part. These events have strengthened our resolve to continue to create the spaces and support the leaders and influencers we need to build a more united and less divided society. A society in which we can all confidently express our identities, share our hopes and fears, and work together with others, without fear, for a better world.

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