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, Remain supporter Tara Evans writes to Leave voters.
“I really thought that we lived in a country that was richer because of its diversity”
Dear Leave voters,
You know that feeling you get when you’ve got a particularly bad hangover? You console yourself that when you wake up tomorrow everything will be OK. I’ve felt like that since Friday and it’s not going away.
It was never a question for me. I want to live in a world where people – no matter where they are from – have the same opportunities as me.
My mum moved here from the Republic of Ireland in her early 20s to study nursing. She met my father, an east London lad, and then the capital was her home. She has worked for the NHS for over 40 years.
I’m worried about the message we’re sending to the rest of the world. I don’t want people to feel unwelcome or that the contribution they make isn’t appreciated. Free movement works both ways – we get to share 27 other countries with our neighbours. That privilege is hanging in the balance.
In the lead-up to the vote the consensus among economists was clear: Brexit will hurt the economy. In the last few days, the short-term impact has become apparent.
The falling pound will drive up inflation and this will push up the cost of everyday essentials like food, energy and petrol. The UK’s credit rating has been downgraded, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, says more cuts to public spending are likely and taxes will go up. Big companies are threatening to decamp thousands of staff to EU countries. The longer that uncertainty continues the greater impact it will have on the economy.
I had just started as a money journalist in 2007 when the financial crisis hit. I’m sure you remember what happened. Jobs were lost, incomes fell and debts went up. There’s a reason why they call the period after a recession a ‘depression’.
My dad voted the same way as you. I’m still struggling to understand why. He says he’s worried about Turkey joining the EU (despite that being unlikely to happen for a long time) and that the UK’s economy will be stronger if the reins aren’t held in Brussels. Personally, to borrow the words of a friend, “I have no more of a problem with strangers in Brussels making decisions on my behalf than I do with strangers in Westminster”.
On Friday, my dad told me I was mistaken. His pension fund had risen. He had escaped the impact of Brexit, but I worry what the future holds for me.
I really hope that I’m proved wrong. But right now, I’m finding it hard to trust Leave: there seems to be no plan and its leaders have admitted some of their promises were lies. There’s no £350 million a week for the NHS and leaving the EU will not cut immigration. In fact, we will probably need freedom of movement as a bartering tool when it comes to trade.
I really thought that we lived in a country that was richer because of its diversity. Yet as I sit here writing this, my friend’s boyfriend was shouted at in King’s Cross station, told to “Go home”. He was born in London.
I know you might be bored of hearing from us, want us to shut up and get on with it. You’re right: my opinion isn’t more important than yours. I want to hear your point of view too.
The thing is, I’m really angry and I’m probably going to feel like this for a very long time. So I’d appreciate it if you could give me some space to grieve the future I thought I had, while you force the one I never wanted upon me.
Tara Evans, 30, is a freelance money journalist in London
Leave supporter Sarah Arnold, whose open letter to Remain voters can be read here, responds:
“Some people have used this referendum as an excuse to bring out their inner racism. This is a small pocket of people. 51.9% of voters are not intolerant. There are going to be people who will not be happy with the result of any election but we need to move forward with the wishes of the majority. I agree that the markets took a hit on Friday, but as I monitor them I see they are already more close to levels before the referendum. I believe we have a bright future ahead of us and I look forward to it.”