Nigel Farage sees today’s result as a victory for “ordinary and decent” people. Democracy has had its say and, unfortunately, it now seems that we are set on a course to leave the EU. We must respect the peoples’ choice.
My plea is that we don’t forget the voices of the 48.1 per cent of voters that didn’t want this to happen. We need to remember that millions of “ordinary and decent” people chose to stick with what they rightly saw as the hugely positive values of European Union, understanding and collaboration. We need to acknowledge that this was no great landslide of Brexiteer fervour, but an issue that deeply divided the nation. Most importantly, whatever you voted, we all need to come together again and appreciate the pivotal importance of our nation’s role as an outgoing, productive partner to our continental neighbours- not an isolated “little Britain”.
Oxford voted overwhelmingly in favour of staying in the European Union. Everyone in Oxford who campaigned for staying in Europe should be very proud of this, despite the national result. I can understand why frustrated pro-Europeans in Oxford might blame the ignorance of the rest of the country – I have seen Facebook posts of this sort already. Yet, we need to move on. We need to respect the electorate’s choices, but also we need to continue to campaign for the best possible future for Britain. For us students, it may be all too easy to resign in exasperation from the politics of the months ahead, much harder to push for our voices to be heard in the making of what will be our future.
In the months ahead, we Oxford students will be spread out across the country, not to mention the world. The summer break means that for once most of us will not be stuck in the ‘Oxford bubble’. The chances are that most of us will come into daily contact with the majority of voters that chose to leave. Instead of patronising them, or simply mourning the loss of the referendum, we need to listen to them. We need to understand why people made the choices they did yesterday, but also we need to carry on telling them why integration with the outside world still matters. It is still so vital for us to push for a settlement in the next few years that values genuinely popular sentiments of respect for elements of the European project. The referendum has shown that we still have a way to go to make these views acceptable to much of the population, but it doesn’t mean that we should stop now.
One of my best friends at Oxford is what I would have previously described as a firmly Unionist Scot. This morning, his views had changed drastically. When Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to stay in the European Union, how are we supposed to expect them to stay in a national union that is on the verge of leaving it? UKIP’s victory today, could well turn out to be a victory for English nationalism. If we value our now endangered United Kingdom, what happens next will be crucial. As much as we need to campaign to protect the cosmopolitan characteristics of our home nations, our advocacy of an outward looking Britain needs to be seen as part of a wider discussion on the future of our country as a whole.
As I write, the Prime Minister has announced that he will be standing down. The likes of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove will no doubt soon be vying for the leadership. More than anything, we need to continue campaigning for a pro-European outlook to make sure whoever runs our country in the next few years continues to hear our voices. In spite of the referendum result, we need to prove that we are a progressive people by calling for wider toleration, trade, and communication alongside our European neighbours. Instead of giving in to assumptions of xenophobia and uncertainty, we need to build on our collective history of respect for our neighbours. Britain may well be set to leave the European Union, but that doesn’t mean that we should leave its values behind too.
In the political turmoil of the months ahead there will be a need for pro-European students at Oxford to unite in their campaigning. Please like the Oxford Europhile Forum on Facebook to get the campaign underway.