Gareth Bacon is the Leader of the Conservative Group on the London Assembly.
Ever since the EU Referendum, I have feared that the divisions between Leave and Remain voters in London would become a serious social problem. Recently that fear was exacerbated. An 80-year-old Leave-voting Londoner was targeted in her home by individuals who claimed to be “the real 48 per cent”. The elderly lady received a death threat in the post, which was then reiterated towards Zac Goldsmith by a BBC radio presenter, who was subsequently fired. There is now a police investigation over the threat. Other letters were also sent to Leave donors and MP Andrea Leadsom.
London voted 40.1 per cent Leave and 59.9 per cent Remain. Regardless of how we voted, we all know people who voted the opposite way, be they friends, family or colleagues. It’s certain that we come into contact, whether we know it or not, with someone who voted differently to ourselves on a daily basis. We should be respecting one another no matter which way we voted. They are people we care for and work with. It is my sincerest hope that the gulf between Leave voting and Remain voting Londoners does not continue to widen. However, witnessing the severity of such threats even after almost two years since the EU referendum, it seems to me that divisions are not letting up.
Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has made his stance on Brexit very clear. He backed Remain in the referendum and has continued at every opportunity to advance Remain arguments such as an insistence that Britain remain in the single market. Bizarrely, he even advanced the argument that if the rest of the UK leave the single market, London should be allowed to remain – quite how this would be achieved was not explained.
The Mayor has a legitimate role to advance what he sees as being in the best interests of London and Londoners, whether we agree with his views or not. But while he has been working on attempting to confuse Britain’s Brexit progress, the Mayor has been neglecting the growing social friction within London. Instead of concentrating on the serious social divisions of Londoners, his focus has been in producing doom-laden predictions on the post-Brexit implications for the Capital. While the government seeks to achieve the best Brexit possible for all UK residents, in London there needs to be a focus on healing the social wounds of Brexit and on making London a better place to live for everyone.
I voted to Leave the EU, primarily for reasons of democratic accountability but also because I believe we have a brighter future in the long term by being open to the world. The referendum has happened, the verdict of the British people has been delivered and attempting to re-heat the arguments of the referendum campaign simply continues to sow the seeds of division, on occasion – as highlighted above – with deeply worrying consequences.
What is now required is that a concerted effort at healing our divisions – whether they be generational or London versus rest of the UK – be made. With that in mind, I ask Sadiq Khan, not as a Leave voter, but as a fellow Londoner and colleague, whether he will outwardly condemn the maltreatment of either side of the debate and seek to be a unifying figure that all Londoners can look to? This is such an important issue for Londoners, I would personally support any effort that seeks to unify Leavers and Remainers in London.
London is not just the city in which Londoners dwell, it is also the capital of the UK. The social divisions that the EU referendum has revealed provide an opportunity to reform the perception that London is out of touch with much of the rest of the country. What better way to show them that ‘London is listening’ and to become the flagship city to start uniting our country once again? There is a real opportunity before us and it is vital that the Mayor of London show the leadership required to make the most of it for the good of all Londoners.