Yesterday I heard a radio conversation about it being 3 years since the referendum.
I listened to people calling in and talking about why they voted and if they would change their minds. Few would.
I think this is because the referendum represented far more than just the deceptively simple “in or out of the EU” question.
I want to explore why it is so extremely divisive, why it cannot be resolved already, and why that is a positive thing.
Firstly, it was always going to be divisive.
The vote was IN / OUT; opposite opinions, with no middle-ground options.
Also, it was engaged with by the public; almost a record high of registered voters turned out; 72.21%.
Nobody comes out of these comparisons looking good, because no single side dominates.
People are split over almost every aspect of policy; immigration, human rights laws, environmental regulations, trade relationships, the role of politicians and democracy in general.
And I think this leads us to the truth of what this situation really is, and why it shows no sign of resolution.
Arguably, the vote was on a single issue; Britain’s future relationship with the EU. In theory, the answer was only to remain in the EU, or leave it. In reality, it’s far more complicated than that.
Though the ballot paper didn’t reflect it, the relationship is extremely broad and entangled, and covers a wide range of conflicting areas.
To boil down the array of areas affected by membership of the EU led to inevitable over-simplifying, leaving us with two clear and distinct camps with opposing viewpoints.
Broadly speaking, it’s left-wing vs right-wing. It’s cosy multiculturalism vs proud nationalism. It’s safe red-tape vs self-defining freedom. It’s cautious co-operation vs bold independence. (I’ve tried carefully here to chose words that both sides would agree with.)
The important thing is both broad camps represent more than one political issue; they represent every single political issue on varying levels.
The issue unintentionally came to represent more than one question.
The Referendum asked do you believe in politics and democracy across Europe? It said, this is direct democracy, do you believe you will be heard? Can the status-quo be challenged? Are you Left or are you Right?
The two answers were far too different, and the result far too close (3.8% of the total votes), to be resolved without risking tearing the country apart.
This is why the discussion of politics in Britain has been at fever pitch now for the last 3 years.
Yes, there’s not really been “progress”, but is that the point?
People might be fatigued of politics, but they are experiencing it. Against their better judgement, they are engaged in it.
If they voted Leave, they are seeing the impact of their vote in a way they might not have previously believed possible. This is why some people resist the idea of a second referendum “opening it all up again”.
People might say that they want it all to be over, but the complex negotiation of rights, expectations, laws and beliefs that we call “politics” can never be over.
It’s important for the conversation to continue.
Knowledge and insights can be gained, small actions can be taken, nothing can ever be taken at face-value or executed on a whim.
Government action so far has proven this. Democracy is a process. Strong views on both sides will continue to be heard. These ideas will not be resolved overnight, and nor should they, for the benefit of everyone who holds them.
None of us want our side to be entirely demolished, and that’s the important principle being upheld in what appears to be a Brexit stalemate.
No one is willing to totally back down, and small margins of victory or defeat are not deciding factors when the beliefs represented are so crucial.
The only way forward is by co-operation and working together.
By definition, that’s a compromise. No one has to lose outright.
For some people a lack of any defeat might be seen as an unacceptable lack of victory, but this only suits people already sure of their success.
It is much fairer and more democratic to believe in compromises over victory, though I guess that’s the kind of belief we are divided by.
Perhaps only time will tell if the urge for completion will win out over the disdain for compromises. Whether that’s what we want or not will have to be something we all decide for ourselves.
In conclusion, the reason why Brexit remains an unresolved issue is because the question was so broad and so binary that it forced people into two camps based on wide political views, Left and Right.
These will not be easily resolved because they are too emotionally loaded and represent deeply-held and differing beliefs on both sides.
However this has led to increased political conversation and general awareness of the complexity of the issue for a lot of people, which is overall a positive thing.
If Britain as a country could recognise this Left/Right divide for what it is, we could accept that the conversation is going to continue almost indefinitely as it always has.
Hopefully we will move forward with that awareness and a gratefulness to democratic process for refusing to easily discredit anyone’s strongly held beliefs.