This work of fiction was written on the 17th June 2016, one week before the UK EU Referendum. Some facts and figures are incorrect because the results could not be known in advance and because people were unaware or misled with inaccurate information or just a general naivety or lack of knowledge which I felt was causing people to vote based on gut feeling rather than hard facts.
Trevor sat at the front of studio with his fingers clasped tightly around his clipboard. Even as a seasoned TV journalist and presenter he was nervous, but anyone would be, sitting in front of one hundred people staring back at him ready for this specific debate. They were muttering, chattering and ranting between themselves, the whole audience was like a tightly coiled spring ready to release its energy in one powerful explosion.
“One minute,” said the voice of the producer in his ear.
Today was exactly three years to the day after the EU referendum – it was 23rd June 2019 – and today it would be a very different type of debate. He wasn’t interviewing Prime Ministers, MP’s or other countries heads of state – this time he was interviewing a selection of the British public – a public that wanted to make their voices very much heard.
Trevor straightened his collar. Beads of sweat clung to his brow. The hot studio lights were taking their toll as he rubbed the back of his hand over his forehead
“Twenty seconds,” said the voice.
It was a different producer and a different studio – ever since the cuts.
Trevor took a deep breath, looked around one final time and forced a smiled into camera one.
“Five, four, three, two, and – we’re live!”
“Hello and welcome to the political debate. I am Trevor Whiting and this evening we have a very special programme for you.”
Trevor could feel the energy given off by the audience, as if something were about to snap. He turned slightly and looked into camera two.
“It is exactly three years to the day since the EU referendum and a lot has changed. We have a cross section of the British public to talk about their experiences and how they have found it since the country voted out of the EU with a 58% to 42% vote.”
The crowd erupted in a huge cacophony of voices, all trying to talk at once. Trevor held out his hand, waving and struggling to make himself heard above the uproar.
“One moment – one moment please!”
“We don’t have much time and I would like as many people to speak as possible. If you have something you would like to say, please raise your hand and I will invite you to speak, then stand and we’ll bring a microphone to you.” Trevor looked around the room. He seemed to have their approval, “Thank you.”
Most of the audience had their hands raised, some trying to reach further than others.
“Yes, sir. The gentleman with the brown jacket.”
“Thank you,” the man said nervously as he stood and waited for the man with the boom microphone to reach him.
“I don’t understand why we weren’t told what would happen, what with the recession, property prices, the NHS, the war and the knock-on effect across the rest of the world. Now other countries are also talking about coming out of the EU …”
Someone beside him butted in.
Trevor raised his hand, “Please don’t interrupt. The gentleman is talking.”
“It’s like we’ve started a chain reaction of unrest and destabilised the world,” continued the man before sitting down.
“Yes, sir, you were going to say?”
“I lost my job. I worked for a major foreign bank in London. They pulled out of the UK and put their head office in France. Thousands of us were put out of work. I haven’t worked since.”
“Thank you, sir,” Trevor said as he quickly scanned the audience.
“Yes, the young lady in the front row.”
“I was eighteen at the time of the referendum and I voted in because it had been my plan to travel to other countries and broaden my horizons. I struggled to obtain visas, some countries wouldn’t let me in and I couldn’t afford it anyway what with the recession and everything. It just felt like my future had been taken away from me.”
Trevor could hear the producer’s voice in his ear, instructing him to keep the pace.
“Thank you. Yes sir, the gentleman in the black polo shirt.”
“I lost my job too. I was a designer for a major car manufacturer. After the referendum, they moved development and manufacturing to other parts of the EU. It …”
Someone interrupted. Trevor quietened him with a raise of his hand.
“Sorry, sir, you were saying?”
He looked around the room, “It was the worst decision that we could have ever have made. If you think about it, the country had forty years of evolution within the EU.” The man became more animated, “In that time we had grown as an economy and we were the fifth largest national economy. We didn’t get there alone, we got there as part of Europe …” The man took a deep breath, “And we threw it all away – what were we thinking.” The man threw his hands in the air and sat down.
The crowd was now the most animated it had been, people shouting, standing, raising their arms as high as they could to get a chance to speak.
“Please, please, I want as many people to get to talk as possible, calm, everyone, please.”
The crowd softened and sat, one person in particular was still standing with her arm raised.
“Yes, the lady standing.”
“It seems to me that we were all puppets at the time and the side that won had the best marketing campaign. They were preying on our fears and our worries. We were manipulated.”
Voices of support echoed around the studio.
“They had no right to not give us the true facts. They told us that countries like Norway and Switzerland were doing okay, but they didn’t tell us that they regretted leaving the EU. They even tried to warn us not to come out but their voice was lost amongst all of the other information that we were bombarded with.”
“Yes, sir, the gentleman in the jacket, in the second row.”
“Hello everybody, I was born in Gibraltar and my family lived there. We knew what the Spanish were like but clearly other people didn’t. The very next day after the referendum they closed the border, we were locked in. The government tried to bring us aid and supplies but that could only last so long, especially when the recession kicked …” the man’s voice began to break, “… I can’t believe that after all these years, we lost Gibraltar and we gave it to the Spanish. We conceded.” He broke down. Someone comforted him by his side.
“Yes, the lady in the blue cardigan.”
“Excuse me Trevor, I can’t stand, it’s my hip.”
“That’s okay,” Trevor replied smiling. “What did you want to say?”
“I was due to go in for a hip replacement after the referendum. I had been waiting for over a year but then they cancelled it. Nurses and doctors went back to their countries. People quit. It’s been three years and still there is no date set for my operation, the system just can’t cope. There are waiting lists as long as your arm for everything.”
A huge commotion erupted and a man shouted out, “I lost my wife because of the cut backs. If we were still part of the EU, she’d still be here now!”
The man had touched a nerve and now shouts were coming from all directions.
“I know that it has been a difficult time for everyone, but I do want as many people to share their experiences as possible,” Trevor said waving his hand to help bring order.
“Yes, sir, fifth row.”
“I am a property developer. We haven’t always had the best reputation, but I always personally had a sense of pride in building good quality houses on brownfield sites that people were going to make their home. I went bankrupt because we just don’t need any new homes anymore.”
“Yes, sir, gentleman, second row,” Trevor said pointing.
The man stood up and looked over at the property developer. “I am a builder and I haven’t worked for nearly three years because no-one’s building, I just can’t get the work.”
“Yes sir, brown jumper,” Trevor said.
“I’m an estate agent and we don’t always have the best reputation either, but the market was turned on its head when we voted out. People left the country, people rushed to sell, people panicked. Now we have more housing than demand, prices have crashed, people are in negative equity with a record number of repossessions.” The man rubbed his eyes, “I voted out, but I wish I’d known better, it’s madness to think we have brought this on ourselves. “
“You sir, near the back.”
“I am a banker, sorry – was a banker, I lost my job too when my bank moved their head office to the EU. We tried to warn people about the potential of a crash, the recession, lack of investor confidence. Even now, three years later, our country’s credit rating is considered high risk. No-one will invest in the UK and we can’t borrow either.”
“Yes, the lady in the tartan scarf.”
“The banker just mentioned the UK, but bear in mind that the UK is smaller than it was since Scotland voted for independence and re-joined the EU. It will be smaller still if Wales decide to go as well in their referendum next month – the polls seem to predict it.”
“Yes, gentleman in the sixth row, near the end.”
“I used to work on the oil rigs in the North Sea. Our business was bought out by a major US oil company when the crash happened. We caused Scotland to lose their oil, then they left. If Wales go, it won’t be the UK soon – it’ll just be England, on its own against the world.”
“Yes, sir,” Trevor pointed.
“I took over my father’s business. Ninety percent of our customers were in the EU. When we pulled out, we needed to renegotiate our trade deals, it took ages for the Government to work out all the export regulations. The EU made it so difficult for us, purposely so, I feel. It was so bad that the company went under. My Grandfather founded that business in 1934,” the man was clearly emotional and sat back down wiping tears from his eyes.
“Yes, the lady in the red top.”
“I work for the government. I know we’re not popular either but it’s not easy running a country and there are many factors involved. The EU aren’t making it easy for us and some things could take even more years to sort out. But, if it helps to hear it – none of us have had a pay rise in years, many of us have lost our jobs due to the cuts and we’ve just heard that many of us will only get part of their pension and some people won’t get a pension at all.”
“Yes, the older lady on the end.”
The lady took a moment to get to her feet. “I am a pensioner. The price of everything is so expensive now it makes it really difficult to survive. They can’t afford to put up the pensions so we just have to make do. I was just a child after the war, and that was difficult, but I don’t remember it being this bad.”
“Yes, the lady in the black dress.”
“I own a hotel and the main problem I have is that I can’t find anyone willing to clean the rooms or carry out any of the more menial duties.”
“Yes, sir, on the end.”
“I own a farm. Like the lady with the hotel, I can’t get anyone to pick the crops, English people just don’t want to do it. I’ve got carrots and potatoes rotting in the fields. But also, I used to get a lot of funding from the EU to help, the government promised to match it but they’ve stopped that due to the cut backs. I’ll have to sell up at this rate except no-one will want to buy the land.”
“Yes, the gentleman near the far end of the row.”
“Talking about EU funding, we used to get a lot of investment from the EU for science. Again, the government promised to match it with all the money we’d save but that never happened. They cut back and now we’ve lost all that funding. My son was going to follow in the steps of Tim Peake, but he’ll never have the chance now. It was his dream.”
Trevor looked around the room. On the far right there was a smaller older lady waving as if desperate to be seen.
“Yes, the lady with the blue scarf.”
“Hello Trevor, I wonder if I could ask you a question?”
Trevor was caught off guard, “Er, yes, okay.”
“Can I ask how you voted in the referendum?”
He hadn’t expected this, but it was a debate after all.
The voice of his producer said something in his ear, he ignored it.
“I voted to remain in.”
A wave of voices flowed through the crowd.
“Can I ask why?” the lady asked.
“Well, as a journalist, it’s important that I listen to every voice, to research everything in detail, understand it and then be able to take a balanced and impartial view.”
The lady struggled to be heard over the raucous crowd, “And that’s my point. It is almost as if you were qualified to decide the fate of the country, we were not.”
“And how did you vote, if you don’t mind me asking?” Trevor asked.
The lady hung her head, as if ashamed. “I voted out.”
There was another noisy outburst from the crowd.
“And why was that?”
She took a moment to compose her answer. “I remember a time when the roads were quieter, people were nicer, everywhere was less busy and I got hung up too much on the whole immigration aspect of it all. It’s only after the event we realised that immigration had helped our country become what it was. We were stronger as part of a team and now we’re on our own.”
The lady said something but Trevor couldn’t hear her properly.
“Sorry, I didn’t catch that, can you say it again please?”
“I realise that I had voted selfishly. The polls said that the young people of the country wanted to remain in and now I have heard their voice and everyone else’s tonight, I realise, “ the lady wiped a tear from her eye, “I realise, I made the wrong decision. I voted for what I wanted, not what other people wanted or what would be best for the country.”
The entire audience stood, shouting, clapping, cheering and whistling.
Trevor could hear the producer saying something in his ear but struggled to make out what it was. He pressed the earpiece firmly into his ear and could just about make out what he was saying.
“I said, that concludes things nicely, let’s wind it up – queue captions – roll.”
Written on the 17th June 2016.
Whilst this is a work of fiction, who is to say that it won’t end up becoming fact in the future?
Trevor Whiting is a fictional character and appears in my book, Pearl of Wisdom.
The opening chapter of the book includes The Debate, with Trevor Whiting, talking to the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister who are debating whether to have an EU Referendum.
Pearl of Wisdom has just been released which is coincidental in its timing considering the EU Referendum is to be held on Thursday 23rd June 2016.
Vote wisely people as it is not just our future that rests on this vote, it’s our children’s, our country’s, the future of the European Union and the potential stability of the entire world.