Brexit – now is the time to build new bridges

There will be many books about Brexit on sale in the shops soon. These will probably include – historical accounts, political memoirs, lessons for managers, public relations handbooks and much besides.

But we know the past. Fundamentally it was a vote of rage, of disconnected people in communities who felt they had been thrown under the bus to save the well-off; who felt their livelihoods had been sacrificed to keep the Stock Market dividends rolling in. Immigration was the target for this rage, cynically whipped up with racism and xenophobia being made to seem respectable.

The vote against the EU was conflated with a vote against EU migrants. And, against refugees coming to the EU to escape from war, including areas being bombed by the UK and its allies.

The message of the economic benefits of the EU – the heart of the Remain campaign – failed to work in communities where the economy was already on its knees. To some, the Leave vote was retribution time. To paraphrase a message back to the London metropolitan elite – you’ve peed in our soup, now we are going to pee in yours.

But looking forward, what should we plan for?

If you still believe in an international future, here are some strategies we could consider.

Well, first we could have the Grim Reaper strategy. Basically, the Leave vote was predominantly elderly, the Remain vote predominantly young. Easy. Just wait ten years … fewer Leave, more Remain, have another referendum and back to normal. Tempting, but alone it is too passive.

Secondly, we could have the Under The Radar strategy. We could press the UK government to try and negotiate with the EU for a least-worst exit. Something like “Norway plus”, which keeps the single market (free movement of people, capital, goods, services), budget contributions, research networks for universities, but no flag and no European elections. Again tempting, but we know it will be two years of constant right-wing bickering on Twitter and in the Daily Mail, complaining of selling out, conspiracy and betrayal. As someone said, these are people who cannot take yes for an answer.

Third, we could have a Cut Our Loses strategy. This sees the UK state break up into its various countries and regions. Scotland, Northern Ireland stay in, maybe London as well. England and Wales out. Manchester and Liverpool voted in (60%), but that area is probably harder to ring-fence than London. Tempting, and more likely now, but ultimately it gives up on England being progressive.

So, fourth, we could have a Build New Bridges strategy. Early days here, but this could include a range of initiatives, including:

1. Declaring our solidarity with all EU nationals living in the UK, calling for lifetime rights
2. Reaching out to “expat” UK nationals in the EU to win over more ambassadors
3. Giving young people reasons to stay hopeful: European exchanges, twinning, joint projects
4. Creating more international links and exchanges at the local community level
5. Building exchanges, twinning and joint projects between progressive local political groups
6. Giving students Europe-wide free movement to study without discrimination,

and crucially

7. Find a progressive economic solution with working dignity for all communities, not just the winners. In the 1930s Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) in the USA experimented until he settled on the New Deal. This phrase is tarnished currently in the UK from the Blair governments’ time but the idea is sound. The 2010s Great Depression needs a response just as strong now as then.

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