Two weeks before the referendum I attended a Business EU debate organised by Sage. I’m fortunate. Throughout the long referendum debate (which by the end some people were referring to as the Never-end-dum) I was never in any doubt about which way I'd vote. To remain of course. You see I come from a different school of thought. I don't believe in allowing the free market to determine whether or not workers have rights because regulation is expensive. I am not afraid of immigrants, migrants, refugees or asylum seekers. I don't think that being separate and free not to contribute to the well-being of other nations is an accolade to be worn with pride. On a daily basis my life is not diminished by being in the EU and I don't blame Brussels bureaucracy for depleting our economy, lengthening waiting queues at GP surgeries or harbouring terrorists.
Following the debate I wrote the following summary for the Sage website:
The tone of the Sage Business debate was set by Stephen Kelly, Sage CEO. Stephen said that Sage's aim was to ensure small businesses were provided with quality impartial information so that they could make an informed decision. That said, the speakers were selected from either side and although the debate was expertly chaired by Steph McGovern, the information the speakers provided was far from impartial.
Statistics obviously supported the speakers position and there in lies the problem. It is not possible to be impartial about the merits of remaining or exiting the EU. The reason being that the future is notoriously unpredictable. Consequently, no one can produce any information that can reliably tell you whether the country would be better or worse off. Whether that is economically or politically; or from the stand point of reducing overall immigration, securing our boarders or protecting us from terrorists.
We can make decisions to leave or remain, but there are no guarantees. Consequently, the two biggest take homes for me were nicely summed up by Lucy Anderson and Herb Kim on the Remain side. Lucy said that what was important was to decide which of your many identities (business owner, parent, UK citizen, World Citizen, partner, traveller etc) you choose to wear when making your choice. Your choice will determine what is most important to you. It's only by deciding what's most important to you, will you be able to make sense of the many conflicting and competing factors, which define this debate.
The other poignant point made by Herb Kim came from a global perspective. Herb's point was that on the world stage, people see the UK as a country where multiculturalism is celebrated, is outward looking and is a nation that embraces opportunities rather than retreats from them. In his view voting to leave runs the risk of sending the opposite message, which would be bad for business and bad for international relations.
I didn't go into the debate undecided. However, a final snap shot poll seem to suggest that the arguments for leaving were more persuasive.
Obviously the referendum has now taken place and I awoke in horror to discover that England (and I do mean England) had voted to leave the EU.
As the UK and the rest of the world recovers from the shock result, the optimist have been putting on a brave face in response to the largest fall in the value of sterling for 30 years and a 3rd of the value of shares being wiped off.
"We can recover from this. It's not the end of the world." Of course it's possible to get over anything. That's not the point. The point is that it could take decades to get over it. For example the UK now has to pass legislation that will replace all the legislation that we have on our statutes that simply refers to EU directives. At six acts a day, this alone will take over two years, assuming there are no arguments and debates about what replaces it. Not to mention renegotiating all the separate trade agreements we now need. So basically that's 20 or 30 years of missed opportunities for our children and young people, whilst we build a "great" nation again.
We've sacrificed a generation for what? So the greedy, lying self-interested folk who want to line their pockets with the money they claim we'd save by giving themselves tax breaks and privatising the NHS can make a mint. Wake up we've been sold lies. By no means is the EU perfect but the alternative isn't a plan for ordinary people by a long shot! The ink wasn’t even dry before Nigel Farage was back peddling on the "promises" to increase funding to NHS from the £350m per week savings in EU payments.
Sadly the problem is that the biggest fallout from the EU referendum decision isn't economic. Boom and bust is a cycle and given enough time energy (and autocracy if you cite Singapore as an example) any economy can do well. The bigger issue is the growing division, separation and legitimation of the voice of the far right. 20 years ago if you told someone to go back to their own country or made statements about immigrants being scroungers and taking our jobs, you'd be considered a racist - now you are a patriot with legitimate concerns!
To say I'm not happy with the Brexit decision would be the understatement of all time. For me as a black person living in a country where the fear of immigration was a deciding factor, I fear that this signals a rise in intolerance and legitimised racism.
Since Friday morning I've been feeling really let down, anxious, unwelcome and even afraid. Despite being a UK citizen since I was 6 months old, I/we’ve never really been allowed to forget that actually we aren't really British by the likes of Nigel Farage and UKIP. All he did was put an acceptable face on what used to be the BNP. It's easy for white British intellectuals and liberals to believe that because they aren't like that there isn't a problem. Just the opinions of a few extremist. However, this isn't my experience. It only take a small push for people to fall back into their reptilian brains and start looking for people to blame. Our worry is, now that its ok to dislike immigrants, it is easy to progress to - well actually all these black people are actually immigrants too. So it begins
I’ve been astounded by some news reports of the people who voted Brexit. These people were saying things like "Now Britain can be for the English again" We've got our country back" I won't have to wait 5 hours in A&E cos these people won't be allowed here any more"
What happens when reality sets in and actually they are still waiting 5 hours and unemployment in their area is still high etc. They won't blame the real culprits i.e. the Government - they will look to the next set of people that they can identify as different, as not English. In other words people of African and Asian heritage. It's a slippery slope and needs to be nipped in the bud now. That's why I'm calling it like it is. Racism! Racism won the Brexit vote. Not economics and not sovereignty. Without the racist undertones and fear of the "other"/the outsider, maybe people would have still voted to leave. BUT perhaps the people who only had racist fears to use to decide which way they voted may have given more thought to the real factual arguments and voted to remain.
All the open hearted progressive people, which ever way they voted, now need to take action to ensure that racism is not given a legitimate voice and all the hard won rights for women with regard to equal pay, maternity leave etc and workers rights are not eroded by people whose vision for a UK outside the EU is clearly one that embraces the "golden years" of the past. A past were it was ok to discriminate against people on the basis of difference.
By way of support they, the open hearted, MUST start to silence the voice of racism, loudly. Actively silence it with reasoned arguments and never, never, never allow it to go unchallenged. When people start talking about immigrants in terms of taking our jobs and pressure on services, they should respond by saying that is racism.
Show me one person who didn't get a job because they applied for it, was qualified to do that job, but it was given to an immigrant just because they were an immigrant! If you are in A&E for 5 hours it’s because there are insufficient staff - staffing levels are way below what existed even 2 years ago due to the funding crisis in Hospital trusts (and that has nothing to do with immigration or the EU). Where is the person living on the streets or in their parents home because the house they wanted was given to a migrant family? I've worked in housing allocations and houses aren't allocated like that. The real evidence is there and it is now our duty to make sure the facts are heard.
So what now?
With regards to #Brexit I've done the denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance and now I'm in defiance! And thankfully, it’s not only me! There seems to be a lot of buyers remorse from a growing number of people who voted to leave, who now realise that perhaps they didn’t quite understand the implications of their choice.
"The idea that somehow any decision reached anytime by majority rule is necessarily “democratic” is a perversion of the term. Modern democracies have evolved systems of checks and balances to protect the interests of minorities and to avoid making uninformed decisions with catastrophic consequences. The greater and more lasting the decision, the higher the hurdles." Kenneth Rogoff Project Syndicate
So perhaps it’s not to late. There is already a petition with more than 3 million signatures, at last count, demanding a second referendum. Sour grapes? I would say not. Prior to the result Mr Farage was on camera saying that if it was 48% to 52% Leave to Remain, he would demand a second referendum on the basis that it was too evenly split to say it was decisive. I say he should put his money where his mouth is!.