Vote Leave conducted a vicious campaign – and it’s why I'm renouncing my views on Brexit

Rather naively, I thought leaving the EU could solve all our ills. But the things I have seen and heard over the last two years have shown me how ugly the project really was

Lydia Wilkins
Sunday 05 August 2018 13:45 BST
Boris launches Leave bus

For my last two years in education, one of the topics that dominated every conversation was Brexit. Whether debating the result in the run up to the referendum, or the shock at the latest act by Vote Leave, I always felt like an outsider. Every one of my classmates were for Remain, while I was firmly on the side of Leave. But now is the time for me to renounce Brexit.

Carole Cadwalladr recently reported in The Observer that people on behalf of the official Vote Leave campaign, despite a cross-party promise, planned to release ads the day after Jo Cox died. The article also suggested that some of the adverts that were targeted at voters the day after the murder were seen by more than 20 million people.

That was the last straw for me.

I was all for leaving the European Union from a young age; I had even written to Downing Street (yes, I know!) for more information. The reply was written as if it wanted to convert an unsure voter. Full of political promises, and phrases such as “the government believes”, it acted as a repellent. It was also three years early – I wasn’t old enough to cast a ballot. Virtually none of my questions were answered.

I remember the bile of the referendum. The political campaigns had become too personal, too vindictive; some particular newspapers were also, in my opinion, irresponsible in their reporting. Something was going to change. But it wasn’t going to be good, whatever it was.

Jo Cox was murdered on 16 June 2016; five days after, I was giving a speech in Portcullis House.

It was striking, to go through parliament, where we were collected. We were in a room where prime ministers lie in state after they die. I remember there was a sense of sadness in the air. It was almost tangible, almost possible to touch. People would leave flowers for Jo against one wall, and tiny notes attached to their bouquets.

Later that day, I was upset due to an unrelated issue and the MP in charge that day thankfully recognised this. Despite being on the other side of the political spectrum, she was kind to me. She showed me the portraits of prime ministers and cabinet ministers that decorated the nearby walls, adding the contextual footnotes along the way. I was a politics student at college, and this subject was becoming real in front of me. Jo Cox also came up in conversation; she reminisced about her, clearly upset. She went on to offer me the parliamentary briefing – the House of Commons agenda for the day – as a kind gesture. I remember being impressed by this, touched.

I was surprised at the referendum result. I couldn’t vote, obviously, much to my disappointment. But I never thought that the referendum would have resulted in a vote for leaving the European Union.

After the referendum, I remember conversations drifting to “what if… we vote again?” Followed by “of course we can stop Brexit”. And this followed by stereotypes, which were all accepted as fact: Leavers are all racists, Remainers lied etc.

Legitimate concerns are now being raised about the referendum, thanks to an indomitable female journalist and the team behind her. Vote Leave has now been fined by the Electoral Commission for coordinating illegally with another campaign group, and been referred to the police. Byline journalist James Patrick, writing under the name of JJ Patrick, has also written two books about Russian involvement in Brexit, exploring the subject before the allegations came to prominence.

What don’t we know, though? That’s the scariest question of all.

There are some things I don’t even have the words for. The lies about immigration have been so insidious; with the disgusting politics of those involved being revealed over the last two years. Time and time again I have heard “send the immigrants back”, “we don’t want you all here”. It’s appalling. I’m outraged. Still, after all this time.

Gradually, I began to change my mind. If I had voted in the referendum, it would not have been on an immigration basis. At the time I genuinely thought (naively) that this was the magic solution to all our ills. (And we have only added to them. There is much about us falling into a no-deal, with resources being stockpiled. If there’s any a time to worry, it’s now). I simply cannot be aligned with an ideology that I view as having become distorted into something twisted, archaic and vindictive.

In light of the new revelations, with lots else still surely to be revealed, I renounce my previous Brexit views. I believe that we have more in common with each other than that which divides us.

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