The social impact of Brexit article

I have written an article on the social impact of Brexit for the December 2016 article of Politics First. You can read the article here (p19) or below.

In the aftermath of a dog-whistle campaign, which focused on immigration and sought to play on fear and division, hate crime rose by between 40-50 per cent over the summer months, according to the National Police Chiefs’ Council, while Home Office Figures show a 19 per cent increase year-on-year.

There is no doubt that we are living in a divided society – our nation is more divided than at any other point in my lifetime – and I cannot see this changing any time soon. What hope can we have that these wounds will heal and that our country will come together when some people feel as though the referendum result has given them a license to assault and abuse people on our streets or vandalise homes and community centres?

It is naive to assume that the divisions that the Brexit vote has laid bare will dissipate if and when the Prime Minister pulls the Article 50 trigger, given the fact that millions of EU citizens living here are anxious about whether they can even remain in the country and how millions more Britons now feel unwelcome in their home country as a result of the wave of intolerance and hatred unleashed by the referendum campaign and result.

Since this June, one of the narratives which has dominated commentary in the London-centric media has been the idea that the Brexit vote was delivered by a North-South divide; however, the truth is more complex than has often been portrayed. The post-industrial towns in the Midlands, North West and North East did overwhelmingly vote to Leave, but so did huge swathes of the South outside of London. On the whole, 52 per cent of the South East and South West voted to leave – places ranging from rural Somerset and Cornwall to larger towns and cities like Portsmouth, Southampton, Worcester, Canterbury and Ipswich.

Although the idea that the North delivered the Brexit vote in the face of a South united in favour of Remain is not borne out by the facts, the referendum has shone much-needed light on long-standing tensions about the economic, social and cultural dominance of London and the South East in our national life.

A failure to ensure that the proceeds of globalisation reach further than just the wealthy few, a failure to implement a national industrial strategy to alleviate the impact of a modern, globalised economy, and a failure to provide sufficient affordable homes, good jobs and access to public services, are all failures on the part of the national government in Westminster. They are not failures caused by migrants who come to this country to find work, contribute to our society and make a home for their families.

Successive governments have failed to rise to the challenge of deindustrialisation and an economy that has become ever more reliant on the service sector. Our economy is becoming more and more like an hourglass – characterised by a squeezed and shrinking middle that is sandwiched between wealthy high earners and increasing numbers of people just about getting by on very low incomes.

Alongside the generational gap, the most obvious divide is between those who live in cities and those who live in smaller towns, villages and in the countryside. In other words, people who live in areas where immigration is higher overwhelmingly voted to Remain, and vice versa.

Five or so months after the referendum, the atmosphere is as febrile as it was during the campaign. There is no clarity on what the road ahead looks like, and there is no easy way to heal the divisions in our society. The “One Nation” that the Government speaks of feels a very long way away today, and writing this on the day that Jo Cox’s murderer was sentenced serves as a reminder that we must not let division turn into yet more hatred and anger – the consequences of that are too grave to contemplate.

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