Report: Pub social discusses options for pro-European campaigning

Where do we go from here? It is a question that raises a lot of uncertainty at the moment, in the country at large and particularly among people who would rather that Britain stay in the EU.

Close to 100 people gathered in a London pub recently to discuss answers and CommonGround’s next moves.

We learnt that there is a great deal of fear and anxiety about the direction of the country. To Remain supporters, the economic signs are troubling, no matter how much a fall in the pound is spun as an export-friendly boon. The politic discourse had taken a xenophobic turn that week, with Amber Rudd’s threat, albeit short lived, that firms should document foreign workers. The Prime Minister, having taken office expressing the need to unite the country, had lurched distinctly rightwards towards a ‘hard’ Brexit that ignored the sentiments of 48% of the electorate.

The fortnight since this event on Oct 8 have proven the platitude about the shortness of a week in politics. Things moved quickly in parliament, with MPs across all parties demanding a vote on Article 50. Even some ardent Leave commentators have said Brexit must not be pushed through largely in secret by a select section of the executive. Theresa May herself is looking somewhat less self-assured.

However, I would guess that those shifts will have done little to console pro-Remainers. They feel underrepresented by their MPs, two-thirds of whom supported Remain, and ignored by the media.

Janet from Kingston summed up the frustration: ‘We are being treated like a tiny minority but we are a very large minority. People don’t understand how angry half the country is.’

Indeed. And, as the June 23 result showed, before the referendum it wasn’t properly understood how angry or disillusioned or annoyed with the EU, immigration or Westminster or whatever half the country was.

Which brings us to CommonGround’s Ten Towns project – a listening and learning tour around places in the country that (mostly) voted Leave.

The aim is to find out for ourselves why people voted Leave, and, where possible, discover common ground with them. Can we make migration work for all? How do we reduce inequality? What sort of Brexit would they like to see?

This was the first time most of the people gathered in rather splendid Pimlico pub had heard of the concept. The reception was positive, if hesitant among some. There was understanding that a listening approach is CommonGround’s USP. The divisions in the country that the June 23 vote exposed were so canyon-like, that we have to work hard to bridge them. There will probably be a large number of volunteers at the grassroots who campaigned for Remain but want to talk to the other side.

Several people in discussion groups said there was a need to address the root causes of Brexit – the inequality and deprivation. And by listening, CommonGround can make a more informed decision about what to do next.

Then there were those who thought the listening approach was a red herring. That the urgent task facing pro-Europeans was stopping Article 50 being triggered, or campaigning firmly to stay in the EU single market.

This view says that time is tight. There will almost certainly be no change of government before 2020, by which time we might already be out. The process of ‘capacity-building’ and changing hearts and minds may simply take too long to yield meaningful results.

The discussion came down to a question of priorities. It is fair to say that we all found agreement that there is a very challenging period ahead, and that pro-Europeans need to stay engaged, in touch and informed.

By Alex Spillius