After the initial shock of the EU referendum result, I find myself, along with many others, numbed by a deep disappointment and a sense of grief. Like any grief, this brings up different emotions: emotions I have seen echoed in Facebook posts and in the words and faces of friends.
Grief – as I explored in a previous blog, “What’s natural about a healthy person dying” – combines three core processes: saying goodbye; moving forward; and making sense. So how do I, having voted to remain, turn my grief to something positive, rather than sinking into despondency, or bitterness and blame?
Much as I espoused the values of the European Union, and what seemed to me the benefits of remaining a part of that, I have done so within the privileged context of a democratic society – something my ancestors fought hard to attain, and something that I cannot take for granted. And that democracy has voted to leave.
While it may seem to me that some of those who voted to leave did so for selfish or small-minded motives, while others were driven by fear, or misled by false threats and promises, to taint all Leave-voters with that brush would be to succumb to the same prejudices and generalisations that I objected to in some of the more extreme Leave campaigners. It seems to me that the reality is far more nuanced and varied. There are, undoubtedly, passionate and thoughtful people who voted to leave for much the same reasons as I voted to remain: seeing an exit from the EU as a move to greater justice, freedom and wellbeing. I may disagree with their appraisal, but I hope I may be given the grace to respect and listen to them. And I hope that in the inevitable leadership vacuum which seems now to have imploded into our country, it will be people such as that who rise to fill the gaps and take our country forward into this next phase.
But above all, it seems to me that many of those who voted to leave did so precisely because they felt disenfranchised, marginalised or pushed aside by those in power. People voted because they wanted a change. While there has been a lot of vitriol and blame in the wake of the referendum, there have also been those who have pointed out just how important it is that we take time to listen to those from both sides who used this vote to speak out: those who normally don’t get a voice or any opportunity to influence what happens in our nation.
Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.
Proverbs 21: 13
Regardless of how we voted, things will no longer be the same. It seems to me that now is a time for grieving by those who voted to remain, and a time for sombre reflection by those who voted to leave. It is right to express our grief: the sense of shock, the disbelief, the feelings of numbness, loss, uncertainty. So the outpourings of emotion that we have seen on Facebook, in our newspapers and on our news channels, and from many of our pulpits, are right and proper.
I have found myself wanting to apologise – to our children, to all those who will be affected by the inevitable economic turmoil, to the many wonderful people from other European countries and elsewhere in the world who have blessed us by coming to our land, to my friends and colleagues in Europe.
And I think it is right that so many have called for a second referendum: right for them to call for it, expressing their anger and disappointment. But much as those feelings need to be expressed, I do not feel it would be at all right to hold a second referendum. That could only lead to even more bitterness and division. No – we need to accept the results and live with the consequences. So while we in the UK will still be part of Europe, we will no longer be a part of the European Union, and we need to go through the process of breaking those ties and saying goodbye.
And so, as we go through the next few weeks, months and years, and move out of the Union, as we face the turbulence of further economic and political upheaval, we need to also move forward in hope.
And my biggest hope is that somehow, through all this, we will find a way in a post-EU Britain, to maintain and uphold even more strongly the values for which the EU stands: for peace, for justice, care for our neighbour and our world.
“The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail…
It shall combat social exclusion and discrimination, and shall promote social justice and protection, equality between women and men, solidarity between generations and protection of the rights of the child…
It shall contribute to peace, security, the sustainable development of the Earth, solidarity and mutual respect among peoples, free and fair trade, eradication of poverty and the protection of human rights, in particular the rights of the child” – Treaty on the European Union
Holding onto that, it seems to me that we all need to strive even harder to support and hold to account those who represent us in the corridors of Westminster. To put pressure on our MPs to uphold those values, and to lend our support to those who strive for these values.
I will continue to grieve. Perhaps this blog is part of that: expressing something of the disappointment I feel; trying to make sense of what has happened; hoping that we may somehow, in time, recover some of what we have lost; and above all, longing for a Britain and a Europe where peace, justice, and respect and care for our neighbours and our planet prevail.