Our household, like many, has been taken over by the EU referendum. Initially, it was my partner who is Basque and absolutely glued to every detail of the debate whilst at the same time listening to the Spanish election coverage on the radio. There came a point where I would walk out of the room if he put one more debate on because the nature of it was so divisive and destructive. I simply do not want to have hatred and misinformation shoved in my face every second of the day. It corrodes the spirit. I have been completely disgusted at the behaviour of my own profession.
In the last few weeks, I have, however, become slightly obsessed about the outcome and my kids keep telling me to stop talking about the referendum. “But it’s about your future,” I say to them. Daughter one has switched off because she feels it is totally unfair that she can’t vote on something that, ultimately, will have more impact on her than on me.
Where we live there are not many posters up, bar a huge Vote Leave one outside someone’s house and an anti-Merkel poster on the road. Someone has graffiti-ed Vote Leave up the nearest A road. There is an overwhelming sense that if you don’t Vote Leave you are in some way betraying your neighbours, many of whom are self employed and have faced a lot of problems to find work since the recession. They feel increased competition for that work has not helped them. This surely has to be addressed, as do the unrealistic targets of politicians.
But is risking another recession the answer? The 64,000 new jobs Chris Grayling promised London seems highly implausible if you look at the global economic picture. A big loss of jobs – and all the business associated with those jobs – is a much more probable scenario and one that is much more likely to impact people’s livelihoods, with those at the bottom paying the biggest price, as usual. And a recession here will affect other countries too. Global insecurity drives the rise of the far right and tension between different countries, and between different groups within countries. The impact of a Brexit outside the UK has hardly featured in this campaign.
It’s more than just jobs, though. People say they want to “reclaim their country”, that they don’t feel it is theirs any more. They say it where I live too. Yet there are very, very few non white British people here. What do they mean? Who do they want to reclaim it from? I don’t think it’s just the Poles or the Lithuanians or the Spanish. And I don’t think it’s just ‘foreigners’.
Projecting a xenophobic attitude is not going to help anyone, least of all ourselves. There’s a video doing the rounds in Spain of a Spanish woman telling Nigel Farage “we are not the enemy”. That is what the impact of this campaign is on the people we supposedly want to continue to do business with, on whom we actually rely for a significant part of our prosperity. They think we don’t like them and that we definitely don’t appreciate their contribution to our economy, to our health service, to our social services, to our education system. It’s not the best way to start trade negotiations. Strength doesn’t come from xenophobia nor from promoting an idea that somehow Britain is better than anywhere else.
In my job I receive questions to our employment lawyers every day about discrimination, arbitrary shift changes, people on zero hours contracts having their hours changed on a whim. There are huge problems created by the current global economic model which favours a select few while punishing remorselessly those at the bottom. Can we escape it if we go for Brexit? Won’t we have to go for an even more free market option to make up for the jobs we will surely lose, meaning fewer employment rights, with women’s rights in the frontline? It’d be nice to think there is another option, but I’d just like to ask all those progressives who argue against the EU just who they think is going to be in charge after Brexit?
Yet I don’t think any of the anger or the problems that there absolutely are with the EU are going to go away on Friday if the vote is for Remain.
If there is anything that can be learned from this referendum it is that we need to try to come together and address the many divisions there are in our society. There needs to be a real effort to listen and understand each other away from all the misinformation, lies and hate-mongering.