Brave people can do a lot of harm, and in the referendum they did. They didn’t mean to, but they did.
Leave voters didn’t mean to crash the UK currency, however briefly, or wipe billions from our economy in immediate share losses or stalled future projects. The Leave campaign didn’t mean to risk losing Scotland, either, but that looks possible now. Heck, Boris didn’t even mean to win, just to get working-class people who don’t watch Have I Got News For You to vote for him. But he did win. And he won because Leave voters made a brave decision. I think it was too brave.
But this wasn’t just about the voters. It was brave of the government to ask the general public to make this decision in the first place. To leave such an important and complex decision in the hands of ordinary people with very limited knowledge even when they weren’t being lied to by politicians may have looked like simple democracy, but it was closer to ‘direct democracy’: anarchism.
I voted Remain, but with less enthusiasm for the Greece-crushing, austerity-pushing side of the EU than the human rights and workers’ rights promoting side of it. I did so because, given the huge complexity of the decision, I did not have the bravery to vote to leave. Remain left the options open for change at a later date. But bravery proved more popular, in the form of a risky assumption that European bureaucracy is somehow less trustworthy than the bureaucracy that helps to govern Britain. Bravery prevailed.
Bravery must also have motivated those honourable men and women who, knowing that at least some of the people standing alongside them were racist and xenophobic, voted Leave even though it risked emboldening those attitudes in our society. I know, I know. Not all Leave voters were racists, just like not all Muslims are ISIS sympathisers. But I cannot agree with those crying out in the streets that the Leave vote had nothing to do with racism. The way the campaign scapegoated refugees, the sharp rise in racial abuse after the result and the warm support Brexit has received from far-right groups such as Britain First, fascist leaders such as Marine Le Pen and hate preachers such as Geert Wilders, make that impossible.
It’s also impossible to ignore the reckless bravery of many on the left, of course. The people who campaigned for a leftist Brexit (and should be judged mainly for the appalling hashtag #Lexit), who somehow believed that once we left Europe, workers would rise up in Britain and create a glorious socialist utopia. Christians who similarly felt that Europe was holding Britain back from Christian values may also have been a little idealistic. Europe was not the source of all the austerity measures the left hates and it was not the source of abortion, equal rights for gay people, atheism or Islam. Society, life and politics are not that simple.
We’ve decided, as a nation, to choose bravery. The way the future is looking, we’re going to need it.
JONTY LANGLEY is a writer, former DJ and recovering philosophy major. By day he works at a Christian mission agency, by night he argues with people on the Internet. For more opinion on the latest trends, topics, news and culture from a Christian perspective, visit premierchristianity.com/blog