Almost every cloud has a silver lining – even Brexit does. Shocked by that June 2016 referendum, the UK has developed the world’s strongest and most vibrant pro-European grassroots movement.
From ‘Cornwall for Europe’ all the way to ‘Highlands for Europe’, hundreds of volunteer-run campaign groups have gained strength in the past three years. Millions of Brits have taken action against Brexit – to take just one example, over six million signed the Revoke Article 50 petition.
The Remain cause has inspired countless of Brits to participate in civic life like never before. The pro-Brexit camp will never manage to mobilise as many ordinary people as the Remainers have done.
When the public learns by doing
A cause you believe in is the best possible motivation for learning new skills. The campaign culture that has developed around the fight against Brexit is rich: all conceivable tools have been mobilised for the cause. Petitions, protests, buses, letters to MPs, all manner of social media campaigns, marches, street actions, costumes. Campaigners learn from each other, and test their skills when engaging in local groups.
When thousands of citizens learn how to set up an outdoor stall or a small-scale demonstration, Britain’s democratic life grows stronger.
In the last three years, countless of Brits have made space for essential campaign equipment such as flags and leaflets in their homes. When thousands of citizens learn how to set up an outdoor stall, run a political campaign channel on social media or arrange small-scale demonstration, a country’s democratic life grows stronger.
The labyrinth that Brexit legislation is going through in Westminster is teaching interested citizens about the British political system in more detail than any school module could. A friend of mine pointed out how Google searches for the process of ‘proroguing’ the Parliament have exploded. Suddenly “everyone decided they need to know” what it means, he said.
Democracy isn’t done to us, it’s made by us
Brexiteer politicians keep repeating that going against this narrow three-year-old referendum result would undermine British citizens’ faith in democracy. To the contrary, the campaign to stay in the EU has done a great, deep service to British democracy.
The campaign has taught people how to participate. Like my friend says, “parts of Britain are starting to get to the point where the idea of democracy is that it’s done by the people, organised bottom-up rather than top-down”.
A lot of people have found out that “politics only seems completely impenetrable because it’s been dressed up that way”, he thinks. Indeed: Politics isn’t only about men in suits insulting each other in arcane language. It’s about speaking with your family and friends, and standing up for yourself when you need to.
This country’s inhabitants now spend more of their spare time on volunteering. By doing so, they’re gaining a whole array of skills: written and verbal communication, event organising, teamwork, graphic design, storing and transporting campaign materials, handicrafts, painting placards, and so on. Maybe these skills help Brits be more creative in their day jobs, too.
No matter what the outcome of the Brexit process is, the British economy and social fabric will emerge from it scathed. Millions of Brits have lost their tempers with each other. Relatives and long-time friends have fallen out over Brexit.
But in one way, the years-long Brexit rollercoaster has turned British people into stronger individuals. Thanks to the fight against Brexit, Brits are now more skilled than before – and more prepared to stand up for themselves when needed.
This article is an adapted version of a text published on The New Federalist.