The Great Bri­tish Brexit break-up

Hus­bands and wives, fa­thers and sons, and best friends are be­ing pulled apart by the ref­er­en­dum. Ju­dith Woods re­ports

The Daily Telegraph - - Living & Features -

His­to­ri­ans of­ten claim that civil con­flicts are the most dif­fi­cult to re­solve. Win­ning the war may be a chal­lenge but win­ning the peace can seem down­right in­tractable, given the bit­ter di­vi­sions be­tween col­leagues and neigh­bours, kith and kin.

So it seems with the EU ref­er­en­dum, a once-in-a-life­time vote that has set gen­er­a­tion against gen­er­a­tion and split the country ge­o­graph­i­cally. Quite pos­si­bly – al­though even the most ar­dent Re­mainer must surely hope not – for just such a life­time.

“Why were old peo­ple even al­lowed to vote? I mean, they’ll all be dead soon,” wails my 14-year-old, echo­ing many mil­len­ni­als, who feel be­trayed by their in­ward-look­ing elders.

Ac­cord­ing to the last YouGov poll be­fore the ref­er­en­dum, an over­whelm­ing 72 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds wanted to Re­main. It goes with­out say­ing that so­cial me­dia is awash with in­dig­na­tion.

Un­for­tu­nately, the wave of sel­f­righ­teous­ness is rather un­der­mined by the fact that only an es­ti­mated 36 per cent of that age group may have both­ered to ex­er­cise their demo­cratic right to have their voices heard.

At the other end of the spec­trum we have the baby boomers, gen­uinely con­vinced they were do­ing what was best for Bri­tain, re­gard­less of the fall­out.

“My grand­chil­dren are fu­ri­ous, but I re­mem­ber the days be­fore we joined the Sin­gle Mar­ket and I be­lieve we are bet­ter off out,” one re­tired grand­mother tells me. “They will thank me. Maybe not im­me­di­ately, but later, be­cause sovereignty isn’t some­thing that can be bought by Brus­sels.”

Nor­mally she’d have been happy to give her name, but in the in­ter­ests of con­cil­i­a­tion she de­murs for fear of fan­ning the flames of burn­ing fa­mil­ial hos­til­ity. Or to put it an­other way: “They’d kill me if I was ‘crow­ing’.”

Be­cause right now, for a large swathe of the pop­u­la­tion, the press­ing is­sue is re­build­ing bridges blown to smithereens in the small hours of Fri­day June 24. Face­book un­friend­ing reached epi­demic pro­por­tions as emo­tions ran high. There is a wealth of anec­do­tal ev­i­dence about Brexit-vot­ing in-laws be­ing out­lawed.

“My brother, who lives in Perthshire, voted Re­main out of self­in­ter­est,” says one Brexit cam­paigner. “I voted for a prin­ci­ple – even if there is a re­ces­sion, I’m pre­pared to take a short-term hit for long-term gain – but now he won’t even re­ply to my texts.”

It’s no se­cret that the re­sult took a great many Brex­i­teers by sur­prise (ar­guably Boris John­son as much as any­one – and he may be hav­ing some dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions with his Re­mainer fa­ther).

Some are al­ready re­gret­ting it, but re­ceiv­ing lit­tle sym­pa­thy. On Mum­snet, that bell­wether of mid­dle-class mores, amid the pre­dictable ding-dong over the re­sult, a spe­cial con­tempt is re­served for those quis­lings who ex­press sec­ond thoughts.

“It sick­ens me to think some peo­ple voted on such a huge is­sue so care­lessly that they are al­ready chang­ing their minds,” a friend of mine mut­ters darkly. “If you’ve screwed up the country for a gen­er­a­tion and prob­a­bly pre­cip­i­tated the break-up of the Union, then at least have the courage of your con­vic­tions. Oth­er­wise how can you sleep at night?”

Sleep eludes many in th­ese tur­bu­lent times, and not just Labour shadow cabi­net mem­bers for whom the night of the long knives con­tin­ues.

For the rest of us, peace and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion among our fam­ily and friends may still be a long way off, but is a cease­fire too much to ask?

‘My friend called me a racist, Nazi xeno­phobe’

Jenna Sharpe, 33, is an ac­tress from Reading I am under 35, I work in The Arts and I voted to leave the EU. This may sur­prise peo­ple, given the pa­rade of “luvvies” beg­ging us to re­main – but not as much as the level of anger di­rected to­wards the 17 mil­lion peo­ple who voted Leave has shocked me.

So­cial me­dia has been par­tic­u­larly toxic. Some­times you don’t re­alise you are op­er­at­ing in an echo cham­ber of your own views. Some­times it’s dis­tress­ing to dis­cover peo­ple you love and re­spect hold a dif­fer­ent opin­ion. But some­times the rhetoric has been truly ugly.

“If you voted Leave you are a

racist, Nazi xeno­phobe,” one “friend” told me. Need­less to say, he was swiftly unfriended.

We have been pre­vented from hav­ing an hon­est dis­cus­sion about wel­fare, im­mi­gra­tion or our place in the world be­cause too of­ten it de­scends into just such child­ish name-call­ing. I’m afraid the re­ac­tion to the re­sult – Leavers la­belled as racist and stupid; old peo­ple told they have ru­ined young peo­ple’s fu­tures – has only high­lighted this, and only made me more cer­tain that I made the right de­ci­sion.

Some peo­ple only be­lieve in free­dom of speech, tol­er­ance and un­der­stand­ing for those who think the same things that they do.

‘My hus­band’s smug face didn’t help’ Sarah Fletcher, 33, is a writer from Manch­ester

Hugo and I have al­ways dis­agreed about pol­i­tics, so I knew he was vot­ing for Brexit while I was vot­ing Re­main. Be­fore the count, it seemed amus­ing that we felt so dif­fer­ently. When I woke up to find the world had changed, it didn’t seem so funny.

Things are tense be­tween Hugo and my sib­lings, who all voted to stay in the EU. My brother (a doc­tor in the NHS) has vowed never to speak to him again, and asked me to pass on a se­lec­tion of choice ex­ple­tives to ex­press how he feels.

Hugo and I have had more ar­gu­ments about pol­i­tics in the past four days than in the 10 years we have been to­gether. We now spend most of the day email­ing each other ar­ti­cles about Brexit to prove the other is an id­iot.

Judg­ing by my so­cial me­dia ac­counts, I’m in a Left-wing bub­ble. I hon­estly thought most peo­ple would err on the side of cau­tion and re­main in the EU. That’s why Hugo’s vic­tory re­ally stung – not helped by his big smug face when he re­alised Brexit had won.

Al­though I don’t agree with him, he isn’t racist or xeno­pho­bic; he voted based on a be­lief Bri­tain will do bet­ter with­out EU di­rec­tives and con­trol. So it’s been un­com­fort­able reading so­cial me­dia posts ar­gu­ing that all Brex­i­teers are big­ots – par­tic­u­larly those I know are aimed at my hus­band. I don’t think we’ll be host­ing a din­ner party for a while!

‘We’ve not spo­ken since Mum voted Out’ Emilee Tombs, 28, is a writer from Devon

I’m tak­ing a risk writ­ing this: my mum, 56, voted Out, I voted In, and since the EU ref­er­en­dum re­sult was an­nounced last Fri­day, we haven’t spo­ken a word to each other. In my teens we had a tu­mul­tuous re­la­tion­ship, but even though I now live in Lon­don, over the past few years we’ve be­come great friends. I fear that Brexit is go­ing to change all that – and I know I’m not alone.

On Sun­day’s spe­cial edi­tion of Ques­tion Time, Theresa May told an ag­i­tated au­di­ence that an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of peo­ple under 25 felt that their hopes for a bright and pros­per­ous fu­ture had been robbed by their elders. I couldn’t agree more.

But it’s not just my fu­ture I’m sad for; what baf­fles me about Mum’s de­ci­sion is that even in our tough­est times I had al­ways held her in high re­gard as a lib­eral, in­tel­li­gent and tol­er­ant per­son. How could she be suck­ered by a cam­paign that I found so ab­hor­rent? How could she dis­miss my pleas to “vote In, for my brothers and me!” How do we move on?

She’s not one to hold a grudge, but herein lies the prob­lem – I am. I love you, Mum, but why did you vote Out?

‘My son-in-law’s not happy’ Stephen Ker­bel, 65, is a re­tiree from south-east Lon­don

Early on in the cam­paign, my son-in-law made his po­si­tion clear – he was firmly Re­main. We broached the sub­ject once or twice, but he was adamant he wouldn’t be per­suaded oth­er­wise. When we had lunch on Satur­day he sim­ply said: “Con­grat­u­la­tions – let’s not dis­cuss it.” He was clearly un­happy; I told him I wouldn’t gloat.

My wife also voted to stay in the EU. I was up­set be­cause she can­celled out my vote. She apol­o­gised in a civilised way and I kept my mouth shut.

I’m de­lighted we’re Out. I’ve al­ways been very Euro­pean and pro­gres­sive, but es­sen­tially, it came down to sovereignty. We’ve been ac­cused of aban­don­ing the next gen­er­a­tion, but I was gen­uinely think­ing of my fu­ture grand­chil­dren. I felt I had to lead the next gen­er­a­tion be­cause they don’t re­alise they’re throw­ing democ­racy down the tubes. Be­cause they’ve lived all this time under the EU – this is all they know.

Go­ing for­ward, I think my son-in­law and I will have to agree to con­tinue not dis­cussing it. Any­thing that goes well from now on, the Re­main­ers will put it down to good luck; any­thing that goes wrong and it’ll be a case of “I told you so…”

Ri­val cam­paign­ers woo­ing shop­pers in Ex­eter ear­lier this month

Sarah and Hugo Fletcher (above) were at odds, as most prob­a­bly were (top) friends Sa­man­tha Cameron and Michael Gove’s wife, Sarah Vine. Stan­ley John­son (below) also did not see eye to eye with his son Boris

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