A letter to the nation

 Alea Iacta est – The die is cast

(Julius Caesar)

On the 23rd of June our nation took the first step in a long process to separate from political union with Europe. It was neither expected, nor were people prepared for it. Understandably, many people feel devastated. In the time since the results were known the nation has witnessed an outpouring of love for Europe never seen in my lifetime, nor perhaps in the lifetime of any individual still with us today. First came shock, then anger. Anger turned to fear, then fear into numbness. A nation feels subdued and for the first time, in a long time, people are uncertain of their future and perhaps even scared of the country they call home.

But just as every life is has a different story, the history of every nation has many chapters. A chapter in the history of our nation is now closed, but the next chapters are still to be written. In all novels, the day is always darkest before that dawning moment. Right now we are in that darkest moment. A moment filled with fear, with anger, with pain and with sorrow. But this is not how our future must be nor how our destiny can be.  I said once before that I am a romantic. I believe that love, kindness and compassion, when deployed in unison, truly create an unstoppable momentum that can move mountains and carry nations, people and societies towards greater things.

The referendum was never more than the beginning of a process and like all turning points in history, what matters is what comes next. It is for this reason that now more than ever is time for people to come together. So how do we come together, how do we heal and where can our country go from here?

This referendum was, at its core, about identity and about people feeling disconnected from the society the live in. For the first time in many decades, the poor and often disenfranchised in the UK came out to vote because they felt their voice would be heard and the issues raised were the ones that really mattered to them. They felt powerless and downtrodden. Now they feel emboldened. That is not a bad thing for society and in fact if this can be channeled, it could be the very key to making our society better.

Our society used to be governed centrally by a small group of individuals, often chosen behind closed doors, by procedures that few understood. This referendum has shown more than ever that such a model is wrong for a modern society. For people to support ideas and to accept their consequences, they must feel as though they have ownership of them. Devolution of political power within the UK has long been talked about and now is the time to revisit it again. Let’s give our cities and our regions the resources and support to make their own choices and lets end the central dominance of London and Westminster, that has upset so many in this nation.

We must also re-imagine how our nation sits within the global community which we operate in. To do so we must re-assure our friends, rebuild old connections and start new relationships.  We are a part of this continent of Europe in a very physical way. The UK may no longer wish to stay with its neighbors in a political union, but that is not a sign that the UK does not love many of the things that make Europe the envy of the world in the eyes of our global community. Now, more than ever, we need to show Europe that love, as many have already done so over the last few days and we need to go further.

Few people bothered to talk to those Europeans who live in the UK and who call it home during this referendum. That is both a disgrace and a tragedy. These people, many whom I proudly call my friends, have made this nation so much richer for their presence. They need us now more than ever to show that we appreciate all that they give us. The UK must also look more to its fellow commonwealth nations and revisit how it can do more to help them and to work closer with them. From 1999-2003 over a third of all Australian expatriates lived in the UK, while our links with Canada, the USA, New Zealand, South Africa and Hong Kong remain extremely strong. Now is the time to make them stronger and deeper. As to the rest of the world, it is clear that talented and passionate people are everywhere and many still wish to make the UK their home. We need to make sure that a future UK creates a fair and transparent system to help these people come to the UK and make it even better.

Furthermore, we must all recognise that politics is no longer something that we can ignore and  disengage from. From 1997 – 2015, less than 70% of UK registered voters turned out at general elections to choose their leaders. At local elections this was often even lower, in some places below 30%. Our power to decide who governs us is a great privilege and something many take for granted. People often feel as though their vote is irrelevant in a First Past the Post system and as a result they do not vote, nor do they bother engaging with politics in their constituency. I believe that devolution can do much to change that, as it has with the Mayor of London elections and the Scottish Parliament, but it can only do so much. People in the UK also need to be willing to commit some of their time to engaging with politics within their communities. They need to talk to local parties, perhaps attend local events and above all, they need to communicate with those who they elect to govern them.

For those who are afraid and uncertain of the future, this is a rallying cry for those who call Britain their home. We have a chance to make a better Britain, one that is global, modern and uniquely ours. Let us make sure that we take this chance and that the next chapter in our nation’s history is one that we can be proud of.

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An open letter to the BREMAIN voters

BREXIT ImageWhy does a man who is one of the biggest winners of the European Union campaign so fiercely against it? That is the question that friends, colleagues, family and acquaintances ask me every time we discuss Europe. The funny thing is, I ask myself that question too.

Since I can remember, I have always visited Europe every summer and likely most winters of my life. My family have owned properties on the continent since I was 15, while my cousins have studied in the Czech Republic, Florence and Bologna. My sister studied in Montpelier and I’ve just completed my year in Bologna. My dad speaks three European languages. My mother is the same. My oldest friends are Swedish and German. Today, over half of my friends are non-UK nationals. I speak (albeit badly) German and some Italian. And (so I’m told), I’m a young voter (26,) and by most polling statistics available, ¾ of my UK contemporaries are voting to remain in Europe.

I love Europe, the place. I love Europe, the people. I love Europe, the food. And, I love Europe, the culture. But, I’m voting to leave. Why?

It’s fashionable to see people who support BREXIT as “little Englanders”. Nostalgic for the days of Empire, when “Britannia ruled the waves”. And perhaps I am. In my heart I am a romantic. Seduced by stories of heroism, triumph over overwhelming odds, and love. All popular elements in nostalgic history. The cliché of love conquers all and the triumph of good over evil.

But what is more Romantic than a continent at war, now at peace? A continent of prosperity and shared values, where all are equal, regardless of faith, gender or where they were born? In fact, is Europe not the most romantic of things? Furthermore, is it not in fact a totem to the success of the UK and its leaders? From Churchill to Thatcher, British leaders led the fight to free Europe from totalitarian rule, secured American intervention on the continent and, when the Cold War was over, it was Britain that brought the east of Europe in from the cold. Surely, for many, the successes of the EU are a testimony to the UK’s achievements. A sign of its importance in the world. But if this is all true, then why am I’m voting to leave?

Voters like me in this referendum could have and should have been at the forefront of the remain campaign. But we are not. It is this remarkable fact that seems to cause such utter shock, terror and concern across the world’s elite circles of high finance and politics. Why on earth do we want to leave?

The answer is that something with our society is very ill and this referendum was a chance for the EU and those who believe in the idea of Europe to articulate a vision of how we could fix it. This isn’t new, nor is it sudden. Myself and others have been waiting over a decade for a vision of Europe’s future. But the reality is, there isn’t one. That is the reason why I am leaving. Belief in an idea requires the conviction that it can work. That requires confidence and that requires trust, but also it requires communication. It requires people to understand what it is they are believing in and to buy into that idea. What Europe and the UK’s leaders have forgotten in their hubris is simple: to buy into an idea without understanding it is not courageous, it’s fanaticism.

People all over Europe are really scared. Real term wages have barely grown for most UK citizens in over 15 years, home ownership rates are at their lowest in the UK for over 30 years, domestic companies in the UK are now 88% owned by overseas investors and crime, terrorism and the threat of conflict is higher than they have been since 1992. But it’s not just the UK whose people are scared, its all of Europe too.

Many friends have said that the UK isn’t alone in being unhappy with the EU. That other countries also dislike many things that happen at the EU level, but that the UK should work with them to fix it. What they have missed though is the basic question: fix it to what? What should Europe be? How should it look? And, most importantly, why is that good for me, my family, my friends and my community?

The fact is that elites in Europe and the UK that lead their communities in business, media, academia and politics have failed to deliver an answer. And now they are reaping the consequences. From Austrian presidential elections, to Victor Orban in Hungary, the FN’s rise in France, the 5-star movement in Italy, Podemos in Spain, Golden Dawn in Greece and PiS in Poland, parties are trying to do exactly that. Give people an image of a future. A future where things appear better, appear more certain and more secure. They may all be wrong. They may all be a disaster. But they are an idea, they are a point of reference and increasingly, they are popular.

A vote to leave the EU will hurt in the short term economically. Maybe even the longer term too. But just maybe, it will also help the country to look deep at itself, at its society, and to search for a new system and a new vision of what its future should be. Many Brexiters are doing that now. From free-market liberals like Daniel Hannan, to Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and yes, Nigel Farage, people are suggesting ideas of a new Britain. Maybe they might all be worse than they are now. But maybe they might be better. Maybe a weaker pound, lower house prices and a migration policy that gives skilled workers from the US, Japan, Canada, Australia and Hong Kong the same rights as a worker from Poland, Austria or Estonia, might in fact make for a more equal and stable society. Maybe.

I said earlier that blind believe is fanaticism. That is how I see the vote to Remain today. A belief that your faith in a system, person or ideology must somehow work out, with no idea of how or why. Is BREXIT a risk? Of that I am sure. But I am also sure that with every decision in my life I’d rather know that I took a chance to make something better and shape my world for the better.

For what it’s worth, I am sure we will vote to stay in Europe on June 23rd. My guess would be by about 5%. And afterwards I am sure many of those reading this will be celebrating. But during your celebrations you should pause to consider, if only for a moment, if this referendum is not in fact Europe’s Pyrrhic victory. A win that has cost Europe so much, that you have already lost the argument for the future. The idea of a life without the European Union has been born and is growing every day across Europe and despite facing one of the biggest existential crises to its existence, Europe’s answer has been to beg, to scare and to threaten people to stay.

In the war of ideas, a future of a better and united Europe is dead. For those of you voting to remain, I am left to ask you two final questions before you vote on Thursday: Europe will have to change again in our life times, do you know what that change will be, and are you really sure that Europe’s next phase is better?

Whatever your answer, make sure you vote. Either way, our votes may never be so important as they will be on June 23rd.