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Stop talking about riots, start healing our divided country

by Luke Lythgoe | 24.01.2019

Opponents of a People’s Vote have been playing up the spectre of street violence in a bid to scare MPs and the public off supporting a new referendum. But a People’s Vote could help start a healing process. Rather than forecasting civil unrest, let’s focus on bringing together our divided country.

Though anything is possible, violence does not seem likely. Similar concerns were raised during the Scottish independence referendum and came to nought.

What’s more, the pro-Leave groups which would presumably be most enraged by a reversal of Brexit are dismissing the warnings. Nigel Farage wrote off the idea in typical eurosceptic fashion, telling ITV’s Robert Peston yesterday: “We’re not French.” The former Ukip leader explained people wouldn’t need to take to the streets as long as they had “a political vehicle to get behind” – which, one presumes, he will be providing.

And yet Theresa May stood in the Commons on Monday and warned a new vote would “damage social cohesion”, although the government later denied that she was alluding to riots. Meanwhile, The Sun ran an editorial last month warning that a “tsunami of rage” would be unleashed if Brexit were “stolen”. “Do you think Brits are too reserved for civil disorder?” the newspaper asked, invoking past riots and the murder of MP Jo Cox.

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Less sensationally, William Hague said a new referendum would be the “most bitter and divisive event in our modern history, complete with unbridled anger, accusations of betrayal, harrowing doubt and distraction”. Yet in the same column, the former Tory leader conceded that a People’s Vote is now the most likely option. The logic of his position is that he should work with others to make sure his dire predictions are not fulfilled.

Part of the answer is to ensure that any campaign is respectful and civilised. Sure, there will be debates as rival arguments are tested – and it will be legitimate to point out any hypocrisy and dishonesty of those making them. But the different campaigns should not go in for vicious personal attacks which have nothing to do with Brexit.

Of course, one side may attack the other and people will then say: “You have to fight fire with fire.” But it will normally be better to fight fire with water.

Just as important will be for everybody, especially pro-Europeans, to show they have the will to fix our country’s real problems. People are angry for a reason. We haven’t invested in large parts of the country for decades; we haven’t given enough money to public services including the NHS; we haven’t  integrated migrants well enough into our communities.

We will have more money to fix these problems if we have a strong economy. Our MPs will also have more time to focus on them if they are no longer squabbling about Brexit. If this argument is at the heart of a future referendum campaign, a People’s Vote will be part of the healing process.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

11 Responses to “Stop talking about riots, start healing our divided country”

  • Tory ERG members such as Mr Bone need to moderate their language also. He behaved disgracefully on Channel 4 News last night when he attempted to shout down Rachel Reeve in an interview. He tried to stop her putting her view across by constantly interrupting her and raising his voice. Ms Reeve did well to maintain her composure and made him look like a playground bully. His demeanour gave the impression of desperation. He wants a no deal on WTO rules. They have run out of counter arguments and that is why he went red in the face and starting screaming at Ms Reeve.

  • The hard Brexiters are desperate to avoid a re-runof the EU referendum. They know that the result they obtained , by very dubious means, would never have been obtained through parliament. If there is a people’s vote the campaign must be conducted very differently by the Remain camp and there are so many positive things to be said about EU membership, peace prosperity,power and progress etc.

    Re the undemocratic nature of a new vote on the subject this is an extraordinary accusation. The government allows itself ” to consult the people ” when it sees an electoral advantage ( eg Mrs May in 2017 ) but not when it is about the most serious and important decision the UK is to take since WW2

  • Attempting to influence the political process by threatening violence if you don’t get your way? In any other circumstances and coming from anyone else, that would be called terrorism. How many of those ‘angry young Brexiters’ would be so pushy if they were forced to face up to the legal consequences of their threats?

  • I am not particularly supportive of a second referendum but when brexiteers and the PM talk of anger and division I wonder what planet they are on. What do they think we have now?

  • The People’s Vote campaign should be careful about putting itself forward as a panacea for social ills, addressing the so-called ‘left behind’ etc. Discontents are always there in every society and if these were the cause, all societies would have Brexited long ago.

    Brexit was caused principally by intense, long term, relentless propaganda against the EU. To combat this, similarly intensive pro-EU publicity is needed – a pro-EU version of the Sun, hiring the best writers in the business, the New European to become a daily household read, In Facts articles to have 5000 comments rather than 5 or 10.

  • I have to say even as an ardent Remainer if the democratic mandate given by the electorate is not respected as outlined by David Cameron prior to the referendum and of course in the manifesto on which he stood for election then civil unrest is almost inevitable
    Yes we can all say people didn’t know blah blah but what I believe separates us from them is we will fight again for a proper vote to join the eu again legally and of course democratically

  • That’s not really reality is it John
    We lost and we most move on democratically and of course legally
    What’s happened has happened you can’t change the past
    All we can do to be proactive is change the future

  • So far as I’m aware it’s being looked at by a court currently Dave, and if they find that the situation is above, parliament will have to decide what to do

  • It is often forgotten that the Lisbon Treaty from which Art. 50 is derived was actually the result of a SECOND REFERENDUM: there were no riots in the street as a result.
    Violence in Northern Ireland as a result of a no deal is more likely. Extremist republican violence and loyalist reprisals are a major threat, even in the eyes of the PSNI Chief Constable. What nobody has calculated is the risk of a spread of violence to the UK mainland. It is not beyond the realm of imagination that dissident elements could team up with returning jihadists who have acquired IED skills on the battlefields of Iraq, Syria and Somalia with disastrous outcomes for everybody.