The ballot paper on which a record number of us made our mark Thursday 23 June had a simple enough question on it. Simple in that there were only two answers, two boxes, one decision to make. To stay or to go. To EU or not. A black and white question with several shades of grey.
It’s an understatement to say the referendum debate has been heated and divisive. As the country prepares for the next step following a 52% majority voting Leave, families and friends split by the result are at risk of losing the ability to understand each other, unable or unwilling to comprehend how a loved one seemingly harbours such opposing values.
We invited a staunch supporter from each camp to write an open letter to those on the other side, leaving overblown rhetoric behind to frankly explain their position and their reasoning.
Below, Leave supporter Sarah Arnold writes to Remain voters.
“I believe Remain activists need to look at why opposing voters chose the way they did”
Dear Remain voters,
Since Friday's result, I have stayed quiet. I watched social media erupt with anger and dismay at the decision for the UK to leave the EU.
I stayed quiet until now. I was one of the 51.9% who voted in favour of leaving the EU. I’m not ashamed of that and I carefully weighed up all arguments (while also checking their validity) from both sides before deciding where I would place my cross on the ballot.
I’m not a racist. It saddens me that I have to point that out. Over the weekend, I heard more times than I could count that if you voted to leave the European Union, you must be a racist. That mentality and the narrow mind that comes with a statement like that is the same narrow-mindedness that people with other prejudices have. We are all made differently and will not agree on everything, but we must respect those with opposing views.
When a date was set for the referendum after the Prime Minister had discussions to secure a better deal for the UK within the EU (which ultimately changed nothing), I kept an open mind on how I would vote.
Simultaneously, I felt I needed solid proof that we as a nation were better placed within the union for me to vote Remain.
I asked people who pledged to vote to remain early on for their reasoning. The general response was a mixture of “better the devil you know” and a consensus that workers’ and womens’ rights were stronger in the EU.
Looking at these issues specifically, I discovered that the UK provides 52 weeks of statutory maternity compared with a minimum of 14 weeks under EU law. Furthermore, before entering the EU, the UK had legislation to protect the right to holiday leave.
In addition to this, in April the UK introduced a National Living Wage of £7.20 per hour for those aged over 24; there is no set minimum wage in the EU even though 19 member states share the same currency. Portugal has a minimum monthly wage of approximately £438 (€530) whereas in Bulgaria the minimum wage is as little as £178 per month (420 Bulgarian leva).
I believe Remain activists need to look at why opposing voters chose the way they did. Areas associated with the working class voted to leave by large numbers; that cannot be a coincidence.
It should also be noted that Sky Data’s estimated poll turnout figures had voters aged 18–24 at 36%. The majority of voters in this category voted to stay in the EU but it must be asked why so few made their views known.
I firmly believe that with good leadership and a solid plan, Brexit can be made as seamlessly as possible. This is partly due to the fact that the people negotiating this will have personal financial interests to think of as well as those of our nation. While there is uncertainty (and with Article 50 not triggered yet), the markets and currency will continue to fluctuate.
I believe the nation made the correct decision to embrace change and in time, that will be clear.
Sarah Arnold, 26, is a freelance writer and statistician in Belfast
Remain supporter Tara Evans, whose open letter to Leave voters can be read here, responds:
“It's so good to hear your point of view. For me, the benefits of staying in the EU far outstride the reasons for leaving. Clearly, on this, we must agree to disagree. I really don't believe everyone who voted Leave is racist, but unfortunately, I do think that the outcome of the vote has, for some inexplicable reason, given the very small percentage who may be some legitimacy in their views. You say that those negotiating these contracts will have their ‘own personal finance interests to think of as well as the nation’. This deeply concerns me. The difference between the bank balances of those making these decisions in Westminster and the working class (the demographic that voted in large numbers to leave) are wildly different. The truth is that the impact of any economic downturn will be felt much harder by those who are poorer.”