Three years on from the stunning Brexit referendum, the societal split in the U.K. has only gotten deeper. And where it goes from here will come down to the next prime minister. The two contenders to succeed Theresa May — Arch Brexiteer Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt — are setting out their competing visions for delivering on Brexit, and the 160,000 members of the Conservative Party will make the final verdict next month.
On the third anniversary of the vote that rocked the U.K., VICE News spoke with political insiders from both the Leave and Remain sides to reflect on Brexit then and now.
“I remember just retching.” Sir Craig Oliver recalled about hearing the referendum result. Oliver was head of communications at No. 10 Downing Street and a leading figure in the Remain campaign. “How is it that we failed to say look this is the biggest free trade area in the world,” he said. “It makes a huge amount of sense for us to be part of it.”
“I think we should remember that we don’t hold elections; we fight them.” So said a smiling Gisela Stuart, the former Labour MP who chaired the victorious Vote Leave campaign.
For “Remainer” and Green Party MEP Magid Magid, the memories of the referendum are dominated by the “massive spike in hate crime across the entire country,” which he believes was stoked by Leave campaigners like Nigel Farage.
Alexandra Phillips who formerly ran press for Farage’s U.K. Independence party refutes the notion that Leave campaigners are solely to blame: “Both sides actually, in many respects, validate and encourage an emotional backlash.”
But what Leavers and Remainers can agree on is the deep divide Brexit has caused in British society. Stuart told VICE News: “The referendum itself divided people, divided families, but what has happened since then is the division rather than showing any signs of healing is deepening.”
This segment originally aired June 20, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.