With my first visit to parliament and my first APPG hearing, I had excitement and intrigue rushing through me waiting for Stephen Kinnock MP, our chair, to begin the event. A solid knock on the wood silenced the buzz in the room and the Hearing commenced. The agenda began with Mete Coban, CEO of MyLifeMySay, and Stephen both giving articulate introductions leaving us all with a sense of purpose and open- mindedness for the following discussions.
The hearing was to be centred, in light of the second anniversary of the referendum, on the supposedly divided country we find ourselves in, and what different divisions have led to this. As Stephen opened up with, Brexit did not solely create the divisions we see today, between young and old, between graduates and non-graduates, between city and country Dwellers, but acutely sharpened them, gave them a platform to develop. The aim of the hearing was to hear witness accounts of these divides, from organisations and the people directly affected.
The first panel introduced the generational gap, and the intergenerational issue emerging since Brexit. Amy Longland, the COO of MyLifeMySay, and Sam Dalton from The Challenge representing the APPG on Social Integration observed this issue through different lenses. Sam, through the medium of a study on the intergenerational gap that his organisation is undertaking, highlighted how the division has been exacerbated with the referendum vote. He further explained how these were widened with the ensuing stereotypes, as well as putting forward the possible bridge between generations that could stem from the commonality of wanting the best common future. He furthermore gave sense of a veritable distrust between young and old that needed to be overcome. Using a different angle, Amy spoke about the results of a soon published Nationwide Review Report based on research undertaken during National Conversations Week, which had three key points: how young people are simultaneously feeling detached from the older generation and under a great deal of pressure; how young people were not feeling informed enough to make decisions due to a lack of political education and finally about young people feeling their voices are muted in government discussions.
The next division our hearing would attempt to touch upon, was the alienation of EU citizens living and working within the UK. Wiktoria from the New Europeans gave light to not only the sense of rejection and alienation felt by EU citizens, but also the rapid increase in discrimination and hate crimes experienced. She concluded that it is incredibly difficult to dissolve this sense of alienation, reversing stereotypes created around “stealing jobs” from the British and recreating that feeling of belonging for EU citizens. Julien Hoez, an advocate for The3Million and policy analyst, discussed the personal discrimination he has faced being French, despite having been born and raised in the UK. A major concern for many EU citizens, he says, is that there is an uncertainty for many about what it will take to remain in the UK, both from a social and legal viewpoint. The next speaker Ian Robinson, an Immigration attorney representing Fragomen LLP, conceded there is quite a bit of uncertainty, but declares there is hope! The possibility of mirroring the work arrangements the UK has with Australia, Canada, and Japan is reassuring in making it easier for EU Citizens to work in the UK.
The final division to discuss was between Urban and Rural dwellers. Three young girls from UK Youth Representatives talked about how differently Brexit has affected their local areas. Those within cities said that there has been an increase in discrimination and protests between all of these divisions. This uncertainty and the feeling of having mute voices has resulted in a few of the people they have talked to wanting to leave the UK. While the girl from Oxfordshire has heard and seen no effect whatsoever, besides a few fireworks.
While listening to all of these people talk about the uncertainty, discrimination, and dissatisfaction, a slight feeling of morbidness swept over me, and I began to wonder: will the UK ever be able to unite? Is there anything good that will come of Brexit? Mete took over the Q&A session and as if reading my thoughts, asked Andrew Silverman, NCS Head of Public Policy and Amy, “Is it possible for the UK to reunite Post-Brexit? And if so, how?” A resounding “Yes!” came from both. They elaborated that this can come from a parliamentary and community aspect: making sure you find some way to have your voice heard in the government and finding a way to more than just understand but also empathise with those different than you. The next question Mete asks is: “Do you think there can be positive opportunities to come out of Brexit?” which is an important question for everyone young, old, city, urban, UK, or EU. Panelists all agreed that the discussion often focus on what UK citizens are going to lose. Although things in the UK will change, these changes do not necessarily have to be losses.
It is hard to be able to count the future benefits right now, but what we can count right now are all those equally concerned and desiring of a good, prosperous future for the UK.