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My 350 on BREXIT: I cannot see how the UK will now be able to hold together any more

"The country has been irrevocably damaged by this referendum, and the place I left eight years ago is gone. I don’t think the damage can, or will, be mended any time soon."

Rob Shepherd
29 June 2016

In the aftermath of the historic British vote to leave the EU, openDemocracy is asking for our readers' thoughts on Brexit and what needs to happen next in 350 words. We've had an extraordinary response and you can read them all here.

As a white, working-class immigrant to The Netherlands I observed the run-up to 23 June from some remove. Nevertheless, discussing the vote with friends and watching the uninformed slanging matches that took place on Question Time, it was obvious that leave would win. 

For me, it is clear that leave won by appealing to a streak of parochial nationalism that has been inculcated at all levels of UK society, over several decades, by the right-wing media. This is why those voting leave appeared to do so as an article of faith. Indeed, most seemed to wonder how anyone could think the EU anything other than rotten.

Meanwhile, those who voted to leave from the left – who seemed to be proposing that somehow a fountain of progressiveness would suddenly issue forth from the emboldened corpulence of the Tory right – are, I feel, guilty of what I am tempted to call false consciousness.

On one level, I pity those who most fervently voted to leave because I believe they will be the ones to suffer the most from its outcome. However, my sympathy is tempered by the realisation that a significant number of leave voters are unlikely to be able to make the connection between events on 23 June 2016 and any future hardship. Indeed, there will always be fresh public institutions to execrate and new immigrants to blame for any long-term damage brought to the country by Brexit.

I suspect that, ultimately, UKIP and the Tory right that will benefit most from the outcome of this referendum and that nationalism, racism and xenophobia will increase significantly.

Furthermore, I cannot see how the UK will now be able to hold together. I feel certain that Scotland and Northern Ireland will leave the union and that this will further exacerbate tensions in England and Wales. I also suspect that the referendum is a portent of an increasingly post-democratic political culture and will be remembered as the first major episode in a protracted British culture war.

The country has been irrevocably damaged by this referendum, and the place I left eight years ago is gone. I don’t think the damage can, or will, be mended anytime soon.

Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals


To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.


By adding my name to this campaign, I authorise openDemocracy and Foxglove to keep me updated about their important work.

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