To say Brexit is divisive is an understatement. On one side, People’s Vote campaigners are attending marches and signing petitions demanding a second referendum. On the other, leave campaigners hold up ‘Leave Means Leave’ placards and dig their heels in even more as each day goes by with no progress.
Brexit negotiations have taken over Westminster. But outside of Westminster – well, inside too – does anyone really have a clue what’s going on? The fact that the BBC News website has a Brexit dictionary titled ‘Your guide to Brexit jargon’ says it all really.
The divide between voters and the politicians desperately and slowly wading their way out of this mess is becoming clearer with each day a deal is rejected. Brexit is now a series of failing negotiations and Article 50 extensions. Yet, supposedly it’s about delivering ‘the Brexit the British people voted for’. I voted to remain so I certainly didn’t vote for this. But I don’t imagine Leave voters did either.
In Wakefield – an ex-mining district in West Yorkshire, where I’m from – 66% of people voted Leave. Like in many Northern towns and cities, if you walked around the centre in June 2016 people would tell you they’re voting Leave because ‘there’s no jobs, there’s not enough housing and my wages are being cut’. Towns were left to crumble under the Tory government. Brexiteers came along and offered a solution; they told them the EU was to blame and if we left we’d have more jobs and more money to spend on the NHS. Leave voters seized the referendum as a chance to finally have their voices heard after being ignored by politicians for so long.
Three years later, their views haven’t been listened to. Towns are still being torn apart by austerity. Unemployment rates, lack of affordable housing, wage cuts are all getting worse. Communities who voted Leave did so as a stance against politicians who continue to ignore them while making cuts in their towns – to their children’s school and the local hospital. It’s no coincidence that the areas that voted Leave are the ones hit hardest by government cuts to public services.
Brexit is not the solution. But neither is a People’s Vote. In fact, a People’s Vote further highlights the Westminster bubble that middle-class politicians and journalists live in, sheltered from the effects of austerity, dismissing the views of the working class in Northern towns. The real solution to the widespread dissatisfaction that drove us into this chaos will not be found through negotiations in Westminster. It can be found by taking a walk around Wakefield or any other area which voted to Leave and talking to voters to find the root of their concerns. The government urgently needs to rebuild the trust between parliament and the communities that voted for Brexit.
In times of crisis, people seek drastic change. We are in a time of crisis and leaving the EU was a drastic decision. Whatever happens, whatever deal is eventually accepted, is not accepted, or if we even leave the EU at all, the government must address the neglect of Northern communities and cuts in public funding which led to deep resentment. This crisis – in our own country, led by our own government – dates back before the referendum and will not be solved by Brexit.