Charting a way forward after Brexit

In the wake of the Brexit vote, the UK can lead by example and replace divisive politics with something that works.

A 'March for Europe' demonstration against Britain's decision to leave the European Union, in central London, Britain [REUTERS]
A 'March for Europe' demonstration against Britain's decision to leave the European Union, in central London, Britain [REUTERS]

The saddest, most difficult thing about the European Union referendum is how it has divided the people of the United Kingdom.

To vote you needed to pick a side, and if you picked a side you risked alienating yourself from huge numbers of others and of damaging relationships with old friends, colleagues and neighbours who thought differently about what the best thing to do might be.

The fact is that nobody really knew what the best thing to do would be. You can only really know this if you know what the consequences of an action will be.

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So here we all are in the UK on the flip-side of “possibly the most important vote of our lifetimes” and a small majority have decided we should leave the European Union: 17.4 million v 16.1 million people.


The emotionality and “informational overload” leading up to this decision caused immense stress and confusion for many.

The obsolete “us” v “them” survival instinct highlighted in this article about why it is so easy to feel antipathy towards refugees was provided with ideal conditions for its activation.

It’s still raging, and finding a myriad of different ways of expressing itself – none of them very helpful.

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The referendum debate was polluted by a need to polarise voters because of the in-or-out decision they were facing.

People take part in a demonstration in Trafalgar Square,  London, against the “Leave” result in the Brexit referendum  [EPA]

All sorts of tactics were used that increased the emotion (positive and negative – carrot and stick) in an effort to herd sufficient numbers of human beings in the direction deemed correct by the argument makers.

In the end, the “vote leave” campaign may have been fractionally more successful because, with its “take back control” message, it tapped into our innate human need for autonomy and control, which is frustrated by bureaucracy, rules and red tape.

On the other hand, the remain campaign emphasised how leaving would make us all less safe and secure.

Our innate needs

Both sides seemed to have an intuitive grasp of what really matters to human beings (we are motivated by anything that promises to meet our innate needs) but, unfortunately, people were forced to choose between increasing their sense of autonomy while potentially becoming less secure, or maintaining their sense of security at the price of their sense of control.

People were forced to choose between increasing their sense of autonomy while potentially becoming less secure, or maintaining their sense of security at the price of their sense of control.

Neither option was wholly appealing hence, perhaps, the close margin. If there had been an option that satisfied both needs, as well as others, one feels that voters would have instinctively chosen this instead.

Following the UK referendum result the emotional brain is clearly in charge as people argue, blame, resign and make all sorts of binary, final decisions that, viewed from a cooler perspective, seem both unnecessary and unhelpful.

Brexit instigator Boris Johnson looked like a dog that has been chasing cars and finally caught one: clueless about what to do next. Similarly Nigel Farage. Both have abandoned ship.

Their replacements are going to need a clear idea of where they are going and how they are going to get there.

Charting a way forward

There are big questions now facing the UK such as: What do we do next? How do we move forward?

How might we stick together in order to work things out and avoid further wasteful conflict? Ideological, party politics is divisive.

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Is it (like the us-v-them instinct previously referred to) an anachronism that we need to dump if we are to discover a viable way of running our country, especially now that we have increased scope for taking responsibility and making our own decisions?

Do the conditions in post-Brexit Britain increase the necessity, and provide an opportunity, for us to take the next step in our political evolution? If so what might that look like?

It’s clear to most people that our politicians have lost their way.

If you asked most of them what the purpose of politics is (and assuming, by some miracle, that they answered honestly) one feels that they would say something like: “If we are in power the purpose of politics is to remain in power. If we are not in power the purpose of politics is to get into power.”

Beyond this it is doubtful that they would have anything useful, or coherent, to contribute. Money and power are the priorities. Everything is subservient to these considerations.

Imagine instead a country where the agreed purpose of politics was: “To run things in such a way that people and businesses can thrive.”

The good news is that there is a way to do so through a document called the Human Givens Charter. This provides a simple blueprint for how to govern a country in a way that could unify the warring clans and work better for all concerned.

For example, the Emotional Needs Audit would be used to measure how well any government was doing vis-a-vis this purpose. Healthy GDP, and profit in general, would become a byproduct of creating an environment in which more and more people get their innate needs met and become more stable, intelligent and creative as a result.

This would be a welcome release from the confusing, divisive and outmoded politics we’re continuing to experience in the UK after the EU referendum. 

Miles Daffin is a writer, software engineer, psychotherapist and Trustee of The Human Givens Foundation.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.


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