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Softening the views of Brexit supporters
19 Sep, 2019

Tips for talking - and listening

Our correspondent, who wishes to be anonymous, adds to his own suggestions for how to have that difficult conversation that wins the heart and mind of a Brexit supporter the views of two experienced campaigners. Both emphasise the importance of establishing common ground. Listen. Find where you can honestly agree with them. Ask questions to see what they really mean or actually want. Make suggestions. 


Make the connexion, find the common ground

What I find works most is to acknowledge what they say, no matter how outlandish. Then try to find some common ground somewhere.

If they despise the EU because of immigration, for example, then acknowledging that completely uncontrolled immigration can cause problems is a great way to get them to genuinely listen to you.

From there you can then try to convince them, with evidence, that the EU doesn't control our immigration policy for non-EU immigrants and that there are more restrictions available in freedom of movement than the UK government applies. If they have problems they should blame consecutive Labour and Conservative governments, not the EU.  

That's just one example, but I encounter it most often and find it rather effective. People are more likely to listen to what you have to say if they think you agree with them.

Always stick to facts too. If you cannot immediately provide several sources then don't use the point as they will reject it. If you're using studies and the sources come from a media source they dislike, such as the Guardian, rather than linking them the Guardian article, always link them the actual study.

Counter what they say, but don't be harsh about it. Be understanding, don't belittle them, do try to soften them, again, with as much common ground as you can find.

And be respectful too. I've often had very good and thoughtful debates that started off with myself being insulted, ridiculed and belittled.  Many of these people later then soften or completely U turned on the EU at the end of the debate, so long as I remained calm, polite and respectful (which admittedly can be hard at times).  Patience is a virtue, and all that!
Only deal with facts, not any moral or emotive stuff unless you're 100% sure it will resonate with them. Otherwise it will be countered and ignored.
Here something that works like a charm is admitting the EU's not perfect, acknowledging its faults but also acknowledging it has the greatest potential for helping / doing X, Y or Z (depending on both your beliefs and theirs, switch those letters for the relevant causes, such as climate change when debating with ex Green Party Leavers).  Saying "rather than running away from it, wanting to work across the whole continent in order to fix it, improve it and make the world a better place" is something that has resonated plenty of times, with the Liberal Leavers. Liberal Leavers also despise the centralisation of the EU and so are often pleasantly surprised when you mention the European Greens' fight for decentralisation of the EU.
With Conservative Leavers I take the approach of how much better our trade deals are with the EU due to its economic power, how little of our taxes they take, how they invest in poorer communities that the government otherwise wouldn't have (such as Cornwall and Wales) which makes them more productive and wealthier.  I also mention that we were the sick man of Europe before we joined and that the EU helped us thrive, as it does for many other nations.
Referring to the fact that businesses and unions are wholly against No Deal, despite the damage that continued Brexit uncertainty and negotiations brings them, hits a chord with more Conservative people.  It shows that whilst Brexit uncertainty is bad for us, those it hits most think No Deal would be worse and thus its better to continue to weather the status quo than go for No Deal.
Also, mentioning how the EU can pool resources from all member states to weather problems such as natural disasters, terrorism (security in general) or recessions can be a good point to use.
Steer away from Freedom of Movement as pretty much all Leave voters are vehemently against it (sadly).
Finally, if they're bringing up talking points such as 'The will of the people' then you cannot get through to them.  I've tried for hours over the past 3 years using all sorts of approaches and none of it works. From what I've seen of others that engage with them, its the same result (failure).
I learnt these approaches from other random people after reading their successful debates online. I have then gone on to use these various tactics and whilst there are plenty that won't change their minds there are plenty that have and plenty more that certainly soften their stance on the EU and Brexit (which will make them more likely to change their mind further down the road).
Frankly, if we're going to win a second referendum or even another General Election then convincing as many people as possible will help increase our chances of stopping Brexit !



Ask them questions - give them space to get there

First of all, remember that human beings are tribal. We have 'us' and 'them',   So you need to bring them into the same group as you. Find an area of commonality - do you support the same football team, do they have a dog you can pet (or are you both 'cat people') etc.  People are more likely to listen if you are 'us' rather than 'them'.

When you're talking to them, remember facts rarely change minds. Find out specifically what they object to about the EU or why they want Brexit. Then dig deeper into that with further questions.

So if they (for example) say 'Sovereignty"  open with something like 'I'm not sure what that means'.   Normally they come back with something along the lines of 'we can make our own laws'.  Ask them what laws have we had imposed on them that they're looking forward to not following.

Immigration - ask what they don't like.   If they talk about not being able to control who comes in, I find it fruitful to ask if maybe they'd prefer something like a system where people have 3 months to get a job, or prove they're not going to be any form of burden on the state, or they have to get out. Nearly always they think that sounds good. Then you can drop in that is current EU law, and the UK government decided they weren't going to implement it. But you can also go with other things like whether we should be blaming the government for underfunding schools, hospitals etc, rather than immigrants.

Don't be afraid to agree with them on some things. I was talking to one person who said he objected to the fact that the EU wastes money moving between Strasbourg and Brussels - I agreed: it is a waste of money.
But you can then suggest its better to be on the inside changing things than being on the outside, powerless. We were talking for about 15 mins.  He started off as  "Brexit is wonderful, the EU is a dictatorship" - by the end he was admitting we should have a further referendum, as what we're heading for is not what the people - including himself - voted for. 
You've just got to give them space to get there themselves, rather than hammering them with facts.



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