IAIN WRIGHT: Country must work to heal divisions after EU referendum

Last Thursday the country voted to leave the European Union. It's not very often that you can say that something truly historic has happened.

Thursday, 30th June 2016, 12:35 pm
Updated Thursday, 30th June 2016, 2:17 pm

However, Thursday’s vote certainly alters the path that Britain has been on. Many people will be delighted by that, others somewhat more anxious and concerned.

What is very clear, however, that this is the most significant political event since the Second World War.

I believed it was a very clear result. Yes, the percentages showed a relatively close race – 51.9 per cent voted to leave the European Union, 48.1 per cent to remain.

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In terms of the actual numbers of votes, 17.4 million people voted to leave, with 16.1 million voting to remain. That’s a clear, if close, majority.

Since the result, I have had a huge number of constituents contact me in respect of the result and asking if I would support the notion of a second referendum.

A petition on the Parliamentary website, asking for the House of Commons and Government to rerun the referendum if the result did not have at least a 60:40 result either way or did not command a turnout of at least 75 per cent, is the biggest and fastest growing petition in Parliamentary history, attracting some 3.5 million signatures.

I completely disagree with the notion of rerunning this referendum; I think it would cause absolute fury.

You cannot change the rules of the game after the result because you are unhappy with the result. The people of this country have decided and it is up to the Government and Parliament to implement their wishes.

I say that the people of this country have decided, and that’s true, but what is really striking is how divided this country has become.

The splits and divides are huge and cut across in lots of different ways – young versus old, London versus England, Scotland and Northern Ireland against England and Wales.

It is difficult to see how the country unites and pulls together in the wake of the biggest change in direction for decades.

There will be further tension, as Scotland, which voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union, wants to see a second independence referendum.

Northern Ireland, which also voted to remain, will have the only land border with an EU country – the Republic of Ireland – and there is talk of a reunited Ireland.

The whole constitutional settlement of this country – the very existence of the United Kingdom – is under threat.

Here in Hartlepool, the vote to leave the European Union was very decisive. Some 69 per cent of people in the town voted to leave.

Across the region, there was also a clear wish to leave.

The vote in Hartlepool didn’t come as a shock to me. I had a different opinion to the majority of the people in the town on this issue, but the notion that MPs are out of touch with the electorate, certainly from my point of view, is rubbish.

I live in the town and people stop me all the time to give me their views, including on the EU.

I knew full well what people thought. I do think, however, that the vote to leave was not explicitly about the European Union, but about rising anger over matters like cuts to public services, the long-term decline in manufacturing jobs and immigration - although about 98.5 per cent of the town’s population is white and born in Britain.

Following the most significant political event in decades, it is the task of everybody in the country to ensure that this decision works in the interests of Britain and that the country tries to heal its divisions.