We need to talk about Brexit

It’s been nearly a month since we woke up to Brexit, and things have moved fast. Since then we’ve had Cameron’s resignation, Gove’s Brutus act, ‘mothergate’, new PM Theresa May and the most comprehensive cabinet reshuffle I can remember. More seriously, and away from our political melodrama, the horrific attack in Nice has added yet another incident to the lengthening list of recent events almost too awful to bear. The referendum is so last month.

Only it isn’t really. Not only will Brexit dominate the political and economic environment for years to come, but the damage caused by the toxic referendum campaign is yet to be addressed. Because the referendum campaign revealed a country divided. Young against old. Cities versus rural areas. And while ‘leave’ won, almost half the country voted the other way. Even raising the topic at a recent dinner led to a vicious row, despite all of us having voted the same way.

Through this process, a huge amount of damage has been done, just as it was in the Scottish referendum where the wounds are still very far from healed. And you can see the impact everywhere. In the worrying rise in hate crime. In the total contempt in which too many remainers hold those who voted to leave. In the rush of UK citizens looking to emigrate. And in a febrile atmosphere where it perpetually feels like we’re living on the edge of a precipice.

So far, so obvious, but what do we do about it? Time will help, of course – it always does. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take more active steps to address what’s happened head on.  Of course, we need to respond to the symptoms. I blogged recently about taking a restorative response to hate crime, for example. We also need to deal with the underlying harm caused and really address the damage done.

At the moment, that’s just not happening. Too much of the debate that has followed Brexit has focused on the impact at a national, political level. We’ve seen Labour MPs’ assault on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and a total reshaping of the government. But what we haven’t had, and surely desperately need, is a national conversation involving ordinary people about how we fix this mess.

We’re looking, then, at how we can use dialogue and conversation to address the harm caused and move on. That sounds like a restorative process to me. And in recent weeks I’ve heard colleagues talking about embedding our approach to the Brexit fallout in a restorative ethos. There’s much to recommend this. A more restorative culture would create a better environment to deal with these issues in a constructive way.

But it’s still too abstract for me. Of course we want to live in a more restorative culture. It’s embedded in the RJC’s vision. I don’t just want to talk about it, though, I want to do it.

What does that mean? How does it work? How to do we get people who have barely heard of restorative justice to go the whole way to embracing a restorative approach? We have ideas, as (I hope) you’d expect. Work with schools and young people, of course, and the National Citizenship Service, for example, but there’s still a lot of thinking to do. We need firm plans which can be put into action, and soon.

It’s easy to overstate the significance of events when you’re living through them. But this really does feel like a pivotal time for the UK. Decisions taken in the coming months and years will shape the country for future generations. If we know one thing from restorative practice, it’s that we need to address the harm caused before we can really move on.

So how do we do it? How do we put restorative principles at the heart of a national conversation about healing the rifts caused by Brexit? These aren’t rhetorical questions, I really want to know. The RJC wants to play a part in this but we need your help. Any answers? You know where to find us, and we’d be very pleased to talk about it.