The “B” Word
Britain is in trouble like never before. It’s easy to think there’s nothing we can do about it, but there is. We can do the thing we’ve been putting off for far too long. We can talk. Not to people who share the same opinion as us, but to those who don’t — an auntie, a cousin, a granddad, an old schoolfriend… everyone knows someone who voted the other way. It’s time to have that difficult conversation.
It’s time to tell them your concerns about the future of our country.
We need to talk about Brexit.
A Nation Divided
One of the striking things about the Brexit vote is how it divided British society pretty much down the middle over a topic that until very recently was something that a vanishingly tiny percentage of the electorate really cared about. But here we are. And opinions are not shifting. Although there has been a small movement towards Remain, that has been more to do with demographics (older voters dying and younger voters turning 18) than people actually changing their minds.
Everyone knows somebody who voted to Leave the EU (and who isn’t a swivel-eyed racist loon). For many of us it feels like a betrayal, especially if that person is a lot older and won’t have to suffer the full consequences of their vote. For that and other reasons, many of us have avoided having that awkward conversation. We know we’d get too emotional, too upset and quite possibly angry with that person for acting in what we see as such a selfish and short-sighted manner.
But if we’re going to stop the madness that is Brexit, we need to take a deep breath and start having these conversations.
The idea is to take 30 minutes to sit down with your Leave voting family member / colleague / friend and clearly lay out your personal concerns with Brexit. It is not to clobber the other person over the head with facts and statistics and economics and all that jazz. Stick to the impact that the Brexit process is having on you personally, as well as your family and friends. The intent here is to get through to the other side on an emotional level.
Brexit was a crime of passion. If we’re going to stop it, we have to win hearts first, then minds.
- Read up on “Active Listening“.
- Be up front that you’re meeting because “we need to talk about Brexit”. Don’t surprise them.
- Arrange to meet for a beer or coffee in a public place where the other person won’t feel hemmed in (ie. don’t go around to their house).
- Agree on how much time you have for the chat – 30 minutes should be more than enough. Don’t leave it open-ended.
- Before you start talking, collaboratively agree on the ‘rules’ for the conversation (eg. listen to one another, respect other’s viewpoint even if you don’t agree etc).
- Start off by laying out, in simple and direct English, your personal concerns for the future.
- Mention the uncertainty that Brexit has generated in your life and how it has impacted your hopes and dreams.
- Don’t get angry, don’t shout, don’t bang your fist on the table. Be cool, calm and collected.
- Don’t insult the other person. Don’t make them feel foolish or tell them that they’ve been conned.
- If you have kids (or grandkids), talk about your concerns for their future.
- While trying not to get emotional yourself, make statements that appeal to emotion.
- Bear in mind that you’re not trying to win a debate.
- Don’t expect the other party to agree with you on any given point.
- Don’t talk over one another and try not to dominate the conversation.
- If met with open hostility “agree to disagree” and walk away.
- Find common ground. Something you both agree on. “The economy is going to take a big hit”, “the government is handling the negotiations badly” etc. Capitalise on it and what it means to you.
- Don’t make assumptions, ask questions instead – a good one is “do you think this government is capable of delivering the kind of Brexit you had in mind?” Another is “do you feel as though you’ve been misled at all?”
- Don’t get bogged down refuting their erroneous beliefs. Instead, write each of them down and promise to address each point at a later date.
- At the end of the conversation reflect together about how you’ve found the process of having the conversation.
- People don’t like to admit they were wrong, and they don’t like to change their minds. Don’t expect an instantaneous “Road To Damascus” moment. You’ve made your position clear, allow it to percolate through their brain for a few days.
- After a few days, send the other person a considered email systematically refuting the other person’s erroneous beliefs that you wrote down, along with links to news stories “they might find interesting”. Try to send it at a time you know they’re not too busy. Again, don’t get dragged into a debate. The information (and links) supplied on this website might be helpful with this.
- Follow up with another chat after a couple of weeks.
1. The Leave voter completely changes their mind.
This is least likely outcome. But if it happens, amazing! There’s nothing quite like the zealousness of a convert (think about people who have given up smoking). Hopefully they’ll bring up the issues with their Leave-voting friends. Ask them super nicely if they’d consider writing to their MP to tell them that they’ve changed their mind. There’s a handy form letter here that you can copy and paste over to them.
2. The Leave voter still supports the idea of leaving the EU, but now understands that it’s utterly impractical and will irreparably damage the nation.
If it’s possible to get through to the Leave-voter, this is the most likely outcome. You might want to leave it at that (while it’s doubtful they’ll start attending Pro-EU marches any time soon, it’s hopefully enough to stop them voting to leave the EU in a referendum on the final deal), or, if you’re feeling brave, you could ask them to write to their MP “explaining their concerns”. There’s a form letter here which you can send them to use.
3. The Leave voter doubles down, stating it’ll be “worth every penny”.
Well, at least you tried!