Brexit has marked British politics forever. But it has also, more crucially, left its mark on the British people.
Do you remember a time when you and a friend had an argument that created a division that you both knew shouldn’t have happened? Do you remember the tension, as you both realised that one of you had to talk first? Do you remember your fear of their response and how you would move forward as friends?
Across Britain there are communities, big and small, that are in this very position because of disagreements about Brexit. Inspired by recent events Christopher Sharp has his own theory on how the nation can heal.
It’s Friday 31st. In Parliament Square thousands, of pro-Leave voters gather to celebrate Brexit Day. Though there is a no-drinking policy in force, the air is filled with the smell of Stella Artois, Strongbow Dark Fruit and second-hand smoke. Quite an intimidating spectacle if you had voted Remain and supported a second referendum, but that was the position I and a friend found ourselves in on Friday night.
Walking around Parliament Square not long after 11pm, we came across a man dressed in a St George outfit. He was holding a sign that read ‘Boris = Brino’ on one side, and ‘Jail the Traitors’ on the other. This man and I are antithetical in our Brexit positions. But I realised I had a choice. I could ignore him or do the braver thing and go over and talk; not in the spirit of conflict, but mere curiosity.
The gentleman holding the sign very kindly explained the meaning behind BRINO. It’s slang for ‘Brexit In Name Only’, a fear amongst pro-Leave voters.
Then we got on to the other side of his sign: ‘Jail the Traitors’. At this point he confessed that he didn’t actually mean what he’d written, he was just trying to be provocative. Strikingly, he told me that I was in a minority; that most people who had seen his sign had commented, ‘They should be hung’.
Though they too may have been trying to be provocative, it demonstrates the extreme tone being taken by both sides of the Brexit divide. Two sides which need to come out of their individual trenches and reclaim No-Man’s Land together. Outside of the economy, the most significant challenge the nation faces in this post-Brexit era, will be repairing relations between Britons.
Some politicians, like Liberal Democrat Candidate hoping to become Mayor of London Siobhan Benita, have suggested that if we make society a more pleasant place to live, then relations between people will inevitably begin to improve.
‘I think everybody has to play their part in this. We have to look at the underlying causes … [to] make people’s lives better in London [and the UK]’, she says.
Theoretically then, if we forge a better society then we’ll be able to forgive and forget about our Brexit divisions. Sadly, such is the damage Brexit has done to society, it’s likely that no-matter how strong the economy becomes, there will still be animosity.
My suggestion is that there should be a cross-party campaign to encourage people to be brave enough to sit down and talk to people of the opposing side. We need something similar to the ‘Brexit Blind Date’ series that the BBC ran in 2017, except on a larger scale. We need campaigns by local councils to re-establish dialogue, so that people can understand each other and move forward from their ideological sides.
We need, put simply, to re-learn now how to say Hello and Sorry, and why that matters so much in healing discord. Then we can move forward as a truly United Kingdom.