“I was at the count for the referendum in the Corn Exchange and walked out of it early on Friday morning with a very sad feeling. I moved here from Ireland and have lived and worked in this country for more than half of my adult life and it really felt that this was no longer a country that wanted me or other foreigners to be here. Over the last few days that feeling has been shared by many other foreign nationals who live here.
This was no victory for what Nigel Farage patronisingly referred to in a speech in the European Parliament today as ‘the little people’. In fact it is most likely that in fact the little people will be hardest hit by this decision.
I mourn the triumph of what I can only call false hope, as so many people had pinned their hopes on an out vote in ways that reality cannot possibly live up to – hopes for jobs, a foot on the housing ladder and the biggest myth of all: that ‘we’ get ‘our’ country back.
I am sad but I am angry too. Angry that this country has been told a hundred lies in the last few months. Angry that there evidently was no plan; evidenced by the backtracked promises. This is the biggest decision we have made in a lifetime and so much of it was built on lies, half-truths and conjecture; and so little of it on accountability, the truth and democracy. On a self-interested gamble from the Bullingdon Club, we have redirected the entire fate of this nation. Democracy and our trust in decision makers has been abused.
I am angry that an already precarious financial situation has been made worse. With more quantitative easing to steady the banks and pay fines to the European Union, this country will face more cuts. Given that Tory government ministers have made local government face the brunt of those cuts, I can see the beginning of the end of local government as we know it.
I am angry because the £730 million a year of EU money that our universities rely upon for research and development for our future scientists, medics and engineers will come to an end with no promise of how a UK government would replace that; and in a city reliant on two universities, this could spell disaster for the local learning economy.
I am angry because the voluntary sector and the city council alike rely on EU grants to help them deliver their work. I know the city council relies on that to do things like create jobs and to stop kids falling prey to drug pushers. But there is no promise that a UK government would replace those grants.
Twenty years on from when fences and borders were being pulled down by communities in Northern Ireland in their brave steps towards peace, it is a crying shame that our backs are now turning on that legacy. There are thousands of jobs in Northern Ireland and so much of its infrastructure that rely on EU funding. We must do everything we can to support the Northern Irish peace process.
A Pandora’s box of resentment and suspicion has been opened up by the fanciful claims that we could somehow get our country back through a Brexit vote. The xenophobic genie is out of the bottle – but what do you expect against a backdrop of six years of Tory cuts and nasty scapegoating. And we should be aware that only a few weeks ago, we were handed another warning: in Austria where the fascist Norbert Hofer was only just knocked out of an incredibly tight race for the President. We have been warned that in a crisis if you give the far-right an inch, they will take a mile.
But I am also hopeful.
In the days and months ahead we will need cool heads but we will also need warm hearts.
For each and every child and young person who had no vote and had no say, we have to dig in and find energy to fight any attempt that will worsen their lives.
Yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer maintained that he would have to “provide fiscal security” in the time ahead. We know already what that means: it means he will gleefully take an even bigger axe to public services. He has said we will have spending cuts and tax rises which we all know will spare the richest and most powerful and punish the poorest. We stand defiant that we must be ready to do everything in our power to fight cuts, protect every job and to prevent the further privatisation of public services. We must also stand up and defend wages. But we also have to renew our call for laws that will establish tax justice – our call that the Googles and the Vodafones, the billionaires and the City spivs have to pay their way or we will jail them.
We’ve heard many words proclaiming the wonder of how all EU referendum votes are equal. It has indeed been incredible to see how if you allow people’s votes to matter, lo and behold they will vote. How about fairer votes all the time? We must endeavour to fight for fairer votes so that we can always have this opportunity. We also have to renew the battle for votes for 16 and 17 year olds too.
Yes we need to mourn but we need to organise too. And earlier today I agreed with the other political leaders on the City Council that we would do everything in our power to ensure that the economic and social well-being of the city is protected through the current period of financial turbulence and political uncertainty. That must include a commitment to build many more new homes and a strong commitment to the creation of many more well-paid jobs.
Ignoring prejudice of any sort has never made it disappear. We do not have the luxury of walking away from hatred anywhere in our city. We must be clear: we will oppose the growth of the far-right and will not allow the current climate of fear to go unchallenged. That’s because not just Brighton and Hove but this country is better than this.
Acts of kindness that bind us stronger as a community have never been needed more. Those at the sharp end of the fear and scaremongering need our support. Only today we have had a Halal butchers in Walsall targeted by a petrol bomb, an Asian man on a tram in Manchester face racist abuse and a German woman ringing LBC in tears, afraid of what the future holds. It follows a massive increase in racist and xenophobic incidents since the results. It is no longer acceptable to remain quiet or walk to the other side of the road if we hear or see prejudice, xenophobia or racism – all of us must challenge them directly.
We also have to say it loudly and clearly: immigrants you are welcome here.
We will oppose the new fear gripping this country. We are not afraid. We must counter the message of hate with one of hope.
An injury to any one of our city’s diverse communities is an injury to each and every one of us. We have to be dauntless in our opposition to those who seek to divide us.
We will stand together.”