As with many people across the UK, I am still coming to terms with the result of Thursday’s referendum. I spent the day campaigning and making sure people were heading to the polls, followed by a very long night at the County Durham count and then a nervous few hours waiting for the results.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. Not because I was not on the winning side- unfortunately I’m all too familiar with that in my job and being in opposition! - But I am disappointed that the country, and the county, decided to vote for a course of action that I believe will damage us.
Worse still I believe that a lot of those people made the decision to vote Leave based on false promises that we are now seeing unravel at an alarming pace. We have all seen the pictures of the Leave team standing in front of a bus with enormous writing on the side declaring there would be an additional £350 million per week from the NHS. Yet after the result, they almost instantly distanced themselves from that statement. Iain Duncan Smith told the Andrew Marr Show on Saturday- just 48 hours after the referendum- that the promises made during the campaign were: “all just a series of possibilities” and “…. It’s not a promise broken. I never said that during the course of the election”. Many people will have been influenced by this promise, and it was a promise, of a better funded NHS and it may have been a deciding factor in their final decision. So for that to be rowed back on at such a pace is astounding.
We witnessed a dreadful campaign that played on people’s legitimate concerns about the impact of immigration on our public services. Instead of addressing the issues of lack of funding to our key services, they used xenophobic language that seems to have given cause to a minority with racist or hate based views to act on them with serious consequences for those seen to be settling here from elsewhere.
This is very much against the tradition of Britain which welcomes immigration and recognises that we need it if our economy is to grow.
The Leave campaigners now have a huge responsibility to change the language and the tone of their message to stop racism and the appalling wave of hate crimes we’ve witnessed since the referendum result.
I know that people across Durham, including those who voted to Leave, will have been as horrified by those incidents as me and I am confident that we will continue to be the welcoming and inclusive city that we always have been.
I genuinely believe, and will continue to believe, there are many benefits for the North East that come from being a member of the European Union, particularly in economic and manufacturing terms. The negative impact leaving the EU will have on the North East’s economy and employment prospects remains to be seen, but pleased be assured I will do everything I can to ensure that I can to protect the people of Durham, and the North East, from the effects.
In the short term, I will be liaising with local businesses and the University amongst others to see how I can support them through this time and I encourage anyone with any concerns to get in touch.
I respect the will of the British people that this is the action that they want to take but I am sorry for it. I am sorry that I wasn’t able to convince enough people that it was in their best interest to stay; and I’m sorry for the uncertainty about the future we now find ourselves facing.
From what we could tell on election night from our sampling of votes, whilst the County as a whole voted out, the City of Durham constituency appeared to vote Remain. Whilst I understand that this may not make people feel better about the overall outcome, I will take that forward as a mandate that the City of Durham wants to see investment and tourism from outside the UK and I will work to make that happen.