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How to have the conversation
03 Aug, 2019

that wins the heart and mind of a Brexit supporter

Our correspondent, who wishes to be anonymous, suggests how best to talk to people with whom we disagree: try to find common ground; reject tribal labels such as 'leavers' and 'remainers'; ask questions – and listen to the answers. With these ideas we can stop just talking to ourselves and instead reach those whom we need to convert.

Many of you have been successfully converting Leave voters and strengthening the resolve of Remainers who have lost hope. Some of you will be communications professionals. Do please write in with your campaigning tips and ideas for how best to get the message across. What has really worked to "make the penny drop"? [email protected]


Are we just talking to ourselves?

We are being herded into tribes that just talk to themselves, hear what they want to hear. Brexit has been made too toxic to discuss calmly and sensibly.  So we need consciously to counter this divisiveness. 

Talking with people that say things you don't want to hear is hard work, but is where the real progress lies, and so requires mental preparation and stamina.  But it’s the only way forward - starting with people you know and like (or perhaps used to like), then venturing out towards people you don't know.


Listen more than instruct

The general approach is - diagnose the issue, listen more than instruct, try to find common ground ("we should have been better informed" often comes up), and try to leave the person you are speaking with some questions to ponder. 

Is leaving the EU going to help things, or just make them worse?  Does it create more problems than it solves? Ideas for challenging questions to ask here.

Often people who support Brexit hold to an underpinning idea that may not accurately reflect where we are. So you have to find out what that idea is and explore it in a way that is as empathetic as possible.  

There might be nostalgia - which increasingly is becoming nostalgia for the recent past - pre financial crash days, pre millennium days.  If you find this, you can point out that we were in the EU in those days.  It could go further back - the sense of Empire and Commonwealth. But the Empire is not coming back and decline in trade with the Commonwealth was one reason for joining the common market.

Some people may hold that “it will be ok, all the claims are overdone, things haven't gone so badly since the 2016 vote”.  To which the simple answer is we haven't left yet, and we're spending millions on stockpiling fridges (you can read a more detailed assessment of the validity of the short term forecasts made before the referendum here).


Find out their hopes for Brexit

You could ask people what they hoped to see from Brexit, especially in their own lives.  Explore if there are any particular EU laws they find restrict them.  What is that we actually may not do while within the EU? If they come up with slogans or generalities, try to bring the question back to their personal lives or to their organisation.

Explore why they want to leave a customs union - because that's what much of the tedious noise about a 'backstop' is about - so ask why they think it has to go, what new trade opportunities do they want.   Ask if having non-EU, generally lower, trading standards was an important decision point for them when they voted last time.  Was it that they wished to adopt US food standards?  Did they wish to have Australian beef (beef from hormone-injected animals is banned, but other beef may enter subject to tariffs and quotas)? 


Soft Remainers who wish to “Respect Democracy”

There are people who voted remain that would now support leaving without a referendum because they feel it is their duty to enact a democratic decision. We can point out that without a plan a decision can only be provisional.

Other Remainers would vote Leave in order to support those that have been frustrated in the past by the economic system. The question to pose to those holding such ideas is: “Why do you think Brexit is going to solve more problems than it will create?”


Encourage converts to go public

If somebody has changed their mind since voting leave they are vital evidence that the public is changing its mind. Do encourage them to go public, to write to their MP using write to them or similar tools. You can also point them to Remainer Now.



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