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How To Not Let Brexit Opinions Fuck Up Your Family

Politics has been a tricky subject to broach with my family for as long as I can remember. With plenty of strong opinions sitting on the tongues of my relatives, the policy employed for any topic of a political nature was just don’t talk about it, which worked perfectly and allowed us to live in harmony for many, many years, until I grew up and realised two things. One, I was very interested in politics. Two, I completely disagreed with everything every other member of my family believed.

I was a late bloomer when it came to being political, so decided quite young, without really appreciating what it meant, that once I was old enough, I would follow family tradition and vote Conservative. It seemed like the only thing to do. My parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles were all good people, so those they voted for must’ve been too, right?

But fast-forward five years and an extensive re-evaluation of the ideas I’d grown up alongside, my firmly left-wing views and love of debate have formed a lethal concoction, one that has gotten me into sticky situations with disagreeing family members more times than I can count. In the one and only general election I’ve been old enough to vote in, I proudly voted Labour – the only one to do so. Politically, I’m definitely the black – or should that be red – sheep of the family. But our political differences didn’t come up too much day to day, so we could all go about our business with very little friction.

That was until, on the morning of June 23rd 2016, the day the UK voted to leave the European Union, I awoke to two text messages. The first, from my best friend Grace, simply said “fuck”. The second, from my mother, read “hahaha!”.  

While the referendum had caused unrest up and down the country, it felt like nowhere had been more affected than my house. What was once a four-bedroom semi in a quaint Cotswolds village had been turned into a battlefield – a competition of who could spout the latest statistics about what good or bad leaving the EU would do. Watching the news always sparked it, but these “discussions” would continue long after the TV was turned off, often becoming heated and occasionally public. We didn’t necessarily want to, but there seemed no other way to navigate inevitable conversations about the fate of our country without resorting to some kind of argument.  I absolutely hated feeling at war with the people I loved most, but I was also loyal to my own beliefs. I couldn’t seem to have one without losing the other.

And now, in 2019 as the absolute fuckery of Brexit continues, I do still feel that tension, that gap between our belief systems. We argue less, sure, but it doesn’t get any easier to always be cheering for the opposite team to everybody else. Though it certainly feels like it, I know I’m not the only one who has struggled with having an opposing political view to someone they love, nor will I be the last. I reached out to people I know who find themselves in a similar situation, to hear their thoughts on dealing with political differences, seeing as my family’s seem to be going nowhere…

The importance of having the conversations, even when they’re difficult

This was by far the most popular type of response. “Democracy is a beautiful thing,” one said, “and I’d rather disagree than live in a dictatorship”. And I completely agree. At any time, but particularly at times like this, it’s important to discuss the fate of our country. You are allowed to be angry, upset or disappointed in decisions your family has made, but in tense situations, I always remember two things to maintain some kind of order. One, both parties are entitled to their opinions, and it is not the business of the other to try and sway that unnecessarily. And two, debate is healthy, argument is not – so when I talk about politics with my family, I talk about politics and nothing else. A heated discussion about a no-deal is not the time to be airing any dirty family laundry. The personal has to stay out of it if you don’t want an eternity of awkward dinner table moments.

Accept that they think what they think

This can be the hardest pill to swallow, particularly for someone like me who is passionate and unrelenting in regards to the hills they would die on. But as the ever-brilliant Munroe Bergdorf says: ‘no one was born woke, and we learn and adapt ourselves and our opinions every single day.’  All of the “progressive” views I hold have undoubtedly been curated by the different experiences, cultures and opinions I have been exposed to via the internet, something my parents and grandparents have not been privy to. And whilst I absolutely detest the “it’s their generation line” as an excuse for offensive behaviour, it is valid to say that my generation, as opposed to theirs, has a much greater exposure to a multitude of influences, many that are outside of ourselves, our countries, classes and race.

Be prepared for them to change their minds

Many people shared that older family members who had voted Leave were now coming and apologising to the younger generation for their choice. As with anything political, lies were spun and anxieties played on during the campaigning for Brexit that has lead a lot of people to regret their decisions. This wouldn’t happen in my family, nor would I really want it to. They didn’t vote leave because they wanted to mess anything up – they genuinely believe it’s what is best for our country. Their choice may seem, to me, misinformed, but not morally wrong. So I don’t resent their beliefs as much as wish they didn’t get in the way so greatly. Whether I agree or not, their opinions are their opinions, and need to be respected as such.

Being politically different to the people closest to you can be tough, there’s no doubting that, especially as the country descends further into chaos you know their votes contributed to. But, for me, our stances on Brexit and who we vote for in elections is just one part of our relationship and something I have to learn to accept.

The reality is that – and at risk of sounding like my mother here – in life you’re going to meet people that agree with you and those that don’t. And some of the time, you’ll have to live with them. The most important thing to remember is that you don’t need to compromise your beliefs. Find ways to fully exist as yourself alongside those that don’t share your view – whether that means knowing when an argument isn’t worth it to channelling your differences healthily and democratically. And with no sense of Brexit progress or resolution on the horizon, the only other thing I can really say is: good luck.

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