Brexit Is an Ugly Wake-up Call - But Bremainers Can't Lose Their Passion Now

26/06/2016 22:15 | Updated 26 June 2016

The outpouring of grief and anger at Britain's decision to leave the European Union dominating my Facebook news feed, is indicative of the underlying problem that has torn our country apart.

Bremainers blame Brexiters for being isolationist, yet it is clear we ourselves are all living on our own little islands. Those who voted overwhelmingly to stay - in cities like London, Manchester, Bristol and Edinburgh - are in the prosperous pockets of society. We have had the privilege to directly benefit from European grants, exchanges, and work opportunities. In the lead up to this ill-fated referendum, we frantically shared Guardian articles amongst each other and congratulated ourselves for being so well informed.

But we failed to connect to the 52% of the population that has now carried us into what we fear will be an economic disaster. Many of whom are now facing severe buyers remorse, as the pound nosedives, billions in EU funding is set to vanish, and the Vote Leave campaign revokes its promise to redirect EU spending to the NHS.

This 52% is rightfully angry at the status quo in the UK. I was moved to listen to a lady being interviewed on the BBC, whose voice broke as she explained her choice to leave. She had a family member who needed care from the NHS for the rest of their life, and she felt leaving the EU would free up funds for our health service, which "can't be any worse than it is".

Devastatingly, voters like this lady have been led to believe that the European Union, or the immigrants its Freedom of Movement Act has enabled to move to the UK, are to blame for the lack of jobs, homes and hospital beds in their hometowns. But the Left should have been arguing much more loudly and clearly throughout this campaign, that this is in fact down to the austerity agenda of the Tory elite that a vote to leave would hand even more power to.

Dismissing Brexiters as bigots will only cause a deeper division within our society, which now more than ever needs to unite. We must recognise that although we are heartbroken with the way they have expressed their discontent, their concerns are real and cannot be ignored. As we face the prospect of Scotland and even Northern Ireland seeking independence - we must take those passionate pleas to believe in what unites us and not divides us and apply it to our own country.

So my challenge to you is this. You all know a leave voter. Maybe they live on your street. Maybe they live in the hometown you left many years ago. Go and talk to them. Not to attack them or patronise them, but to find out what they hoped their vote to leave would bring to this country. Sure - there will be some people who just hate foreigners and are nostalgic for a country that never existed - but I bet most want the same things Bremainers do. More money for the NHS to protect the ill and elderly. Investment in job creation. Affordable housing. Functioning state schools, with enough places for all our children.

Better still, let's buddy up constituencies that voted in opposing directions, and set them the task of understanding each other. If we've lost the cultural exchanges we could have had in Europe, we are going to need to start fostering some unity and solidarity within our own nations.

This is not the inward looking outcome I hoped we would see. But as Bremainers, we need to keep the passion alive that we feel for this issue. Yes, we lost, by a ludicrously slim margin, but our only (likely) choice is to move forward. Perhaps we needed to experience the gut-punch of having something we believe in and rely so heavily taken away from us, to understand how those in the forgotten corners of our country felt when they voted us out.

We cannot let hatred and resentment take over now. Instead, we need to channel our energy into fighting the social injustice that led to this sad situation. This cannot be done under a Conservative government - the Left now urgently needs to mobilise and show it can navigate us through this torrid time. This will hinge on the Labour party getting its act together and support their leader that won a landslide majority from both party and the people just months ago. It will rely on their ability to bring back voters who were pushed into the arms of Ukip because they felt no one else was representing them. Brexit was an ugly wake up call, but we are in desperate need of change that we must now fight for.

In his column for the Guardian last week, Timothy Garton Ash invoked the words of Poland's interwar independence hero Józef Piłsudski that I think should guide all Bremainers as we move ahead:

"To be defeated and not give up, that is victory."