Brexit – The Dangers of a Fragmented Society

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It is strange to think that by the time this article has been published, I will have begun working towards my masters degree. Several months have now passed since the most important few days of my life, and the single most important political event of our generation. Three years of studying had finally come to an end and it was time to find out the result of my Politics degree. The following day, it was time to find out the result of the European Referendum.

It has been three months since Britain voted to leave the European Union. At the time of writing, Article 50 has yet to be triggered. The latest official reports suggest it will be several more months before the terms of our exit have been negotiated, formalised and put into action; more pessimistic sources have extended this estimate by as much as three years. Economic turbulence, travel restrictions and the imposition of punitive tariffs have all been cited as likely consequences of our decision to leave. It is therefore unsurprising that the debate following the outcome of the election has been characterised by vitriolic reactions from both sides of the debate. With stakes so high, a strong backlash was inevitable, regardless of the result itself. It is important, however, that we do not allow ourselves to be blindsided by our emotions at this time. Alongside revealing an electoral mandate, the 24th of June revealed something arguably more important, and more dangerous; the extent to which our society has become more divided today than at any point in our recent history – along racial and religious lines, across class and vocation, age and education. The reaction to the vote has shown this phenomenon is only set to worsen.

The past is littered with examples of the danger than accompanies these divisions if they are allowed to fester and deepen. The modern world, with examples of our failure to learn from this history. In the States, people of colour go about their lives knowing a ‘routine’ traffic stop could prove fatal; in the Levant, Yazidi communities face forced conversion, enslavement or death at the hands of the so-called Islamic State. On the Continent, fascist and populist parties are gaining support exponentially; In Australia, Pauline Hanson, leader of the notorious One Nation Party, has been reelected to the Senate following an eighteen year hiatus.

Just one year before her death, MP Jo Cox stated “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”. I’m not sure if that remains true. This referendum and its aftermath have well and truly destroyed any tenuous illusions we may have held of national unity; things that divide us unable to be rectified by our shared love of Friday night fish and chips, tendency towards self-deprecation and slightly neurotic penchant for queuing. I don’t wish to sound like a scene from Mean Girls: this article is not a call for us to just “bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles”. If the past three years at Lancaster have taught me anything, it is that there are no easy solutions to these issues; political consensus is a concept that rarely –if ever- materialises in the real world. It will take sacrifice, dedication and years of reform to even begin to resolve the tensions the events of the past few months have brought to the fore. But Jo’s death, and the deaths of so many others nationally and internationally, truly demonstrate the potential fallout we face if we are unwilling to aspire to and work towards creating the society she envisioned.

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