The EU referendum result

However you cast your vote yesterday, it is indisputable this morning that Britain has taken a decision with the most significant of consequences. The repercussions for our politics, society and economy will be felt for years, even decades.

The voluntary sector is needed now more than ever

These have been troubled times, and they will continue to be so. Britain is facing political and economic unrest for months if not years to come.

Your support and advocacy for the people and causes you work for will be essential in this climate.

There are millions, even tens of millions in the UK who feel distanced from institutions that are meant to work on their behalf. At best apathetic, at worst, deeply hostile. Meanwhile the debate has left a bitter taste on both sides. It has served to exacerbate other divisions within our society.

The referendum has thrown into sharper contrast than ever previously a division in the United Kingdom. Questions of social mobility will rightly now come to the fore again. And we can hope that the racial tensions stoked so crudely and cruelly during the campaigning do not linger, but the risk of this is clear. We must now play our role in healing these divisions. We can and must help people in the communities we work with to understand, respect and cherish each other.

Restoring trust and kinship

For so many of you, this is a natural part and parcel of your work, or at least a by-product of it. My message today is that you should consider what more you can do to bring communities together, whether working with other voluntary organisations or with other civic institutions. Outreach and inclusivity in our practices matters now more than ever.

Beveridge is often cited on the topic of charity. Charity, he said, is ‘like a golden thread through the living tapestry of our national story’. The warp and weft of our society have been pulled at. Now is the time to do our part to bind them back together.

There is an urgent need to work to restore trust in society. Between the public and institutions, even between members of the public. Every little counts. Every negative encounter, every disappointing news story, does its bit to chip away at the finite reserves of trust that people hold. Every positive encounter, everything that serves to reinforce faith, can rebuild those reserves.

We must all work every day to do what we can to rebuild those reserves. The work we do plays a substantial role in doing this. Bringing people together and making a difference. Empowering people, restoring hope, improving the world around us. Doing this – and doing it in a way that most engenders trust in our own organisations themselves – is more important now than ever.

The economy

Despite a strong turnout, for many, the debates of recent weeks will seem arcane or irrelevant. Abstract and disconnected from their real lives. In some ways, they would be right. The world will continue to turn and the direct effects may be difficult for many to discern: you were poor before, you’re still poor now.

We are just recovering from the previous economic crisis. Further years of economic difficulty would scarcely seem like a change to young people who have known nothing else. But they would mean more years of struggling to fulfil our organisations’ complete potential to do good, more years of seeing people struggle in the face of hardship. We can only hope for skilled and thoughtful leadership in the coming weeks and months in order to avoid the worst of the financial predictions. The sector’s voice will be essential in speaking up and shaping the future. NCVO will be working to ensure civil society plays its full role here.

We are entering rough waters – the consolation is that we in the voluntary sector are masters of navigating such seas. That expertise will be more important now than ever.

What now ?

This is a fast-moving situation. We will be publishing a full briefing on the likely consequences as we see them in the coming days. I welcome your thoughts in the meantime on what the result will mean to your beneficiaries and your organisations. You may comment below or email me.


Free webinar – EU referendum: Implications for the voluntary sector

With David Cameron announcing he will step down as Prime Minister, there will be a number of political implications that charities need to be aware of. Our free webinar on 7 July will take a look at some of the key impacts on the political and policy agenda in the months ahead.

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Stuart Etherington Sir Stuart Etherington was chief executive of NCVO from 1994 to 2019.

21 Responses to The EU referendum result

  1. Lynne Hand says:

    “Bringing people together and making a difference. Empowering people, restoring hope, improving the world around us.”

    Many of the aims of the EU. I’m afraid we are going to see more division.

    As an international organisation it has been very difficult for me to explain to our members what has been happening in the UK, no one believed that this could happen in the cradle of democracy. Now I will have to try to convince them that not everyone in the UK is xenophobic. I can only hope they will continue to support the idea of English as the language of friendship.

  2. It is somewhat disingenuous for 17.5m people to vote leave and not accept that they will have to do more and be more involved in building the safe, truly democratic and fair society in which we all wish to live.
    There will undoubtedly develop a new norm in our lives and the journey to that time will be full of challenges but I suggest the democratic process we have just experienced offers more opportunities to build a better, fairer, well diversified and fully inclusive society than it does endanger our way of life. But it does mean more people will have to do more, get involved and not sit on the fence!

  3. Stuart is right to talk about the importance of charities at helping to pull communities together:

    I voted to remain. It’s something about which I felt very strongly. This morning, I feel very sad. I’m not going to say why, because you will have heard or read all of the reasons over the last few weeks; just as you’ll have heard or read all of the reasons why it was better to leave Europe. There will be a majority of people in the UK who will feel great about this morning’s outcome. It may feel to all of us that there is now a big divide.

    This may be doubly true for young people – the vast majority of whom, over three quarters, voted to remain. Many are understandably expressing their anger about how this decision will have an impact for a greater proportion of their lives than for those who voted to leave.

    About two weeks ago, I was watching the news feed on my social media and wrote this:

    ‘Reflecting on the EU Referendum I’ve been thinking how tribal it feels. Two camps broadcasting our arguments at each other. I’m clearly in one camp and I can tell because there is only pro-European stuff on my Facebook feed.’

    It reminds me of posts about ‘un-friending’ people with different views: ‘Here’s my opinion. Agree with it or it’s over between us.’

    I think that if I want someone to hear what I think, I have to engage with people from other ‘tribes’ with an open pair of ears and an open mind. And really listen. Hard.

    Then, maybe, they might ask me what I think. And, I need to be open to the possibility that I might find real value in what they have to tell me about what they think and believe.

    There are people who I love and respect who I know voted to leave. And the reason I’m close to them is that we share so many of the same beliefs: on this issue we believed differently, but on most, we feel and think similarly. If we focus on what we share, first, before we focus on our differences, we’ll find it easier and build better more resilient relationships.

    In our work with young people in conflict with one another, the differences they focus on can feel insurmountable. Sometimes they feel so severely that it can result in extreme violence. Through our work we see young people manage to overcome those differences, build wonderful friendships and go on to lead other young people to value differences.

    For those of us who voted to remain, it may feel Herculean, when we’re feeling so sore, to invest time and effort with people who didn’t, but if we put the first foot forwards, we have a chance to be a more united nation, even if it’s not a united Europe.

    So, now, I’m going to find the swiftest way I can to make peace with this reality and find the opportunities that will emerge from the change. Change always brings opportunities.

  4. It has been quite a divisive campaign with negative impact on diverse multicultural communities across the nation. The goal to instil fear and distrust was mostly accomplished. The situation for vulnerable individuals and families has been stormy for a while and with this outcome, it looks like the stakes have been raised on inidivudual, social, political and economic levels. Advocates like myself have got our work cut out for us working in special educational needs and disability. We must now gear up to be the much needed lifeline for our clients supporting them to cope with the demands of these new times. With support, working together, nothing is Impossible. Democracy must still serve the entire population not the 17million that voted to leave EU. We must still ensure that the government serves the people, especially the vulnerable.

  5. Sajidah Chaudhary says:

    Nicely said Bola Aworinde!

  6. Wen Cai says:

    Before when we went to Europe countries, there was a green light there for us and we were a family but the green light is not there and we will be in a traffic jam…

  7. Thank you Sajidah Chaudhary. ☀️☀️

  8. What is important is that we recognise what drives each of us – our values – and that values education needs to become a more explicit component in the school curriculum and that whatever we do, we are more acutely aware of the potential effects of our chosen values.

    As the referendum campaign has illustrated, some values can be positive, uplifting and enriching while others can be negative and lead to harm.

    VALUES EDUCATION shows us that there are two main types of values:

    OUTCOME VALUES – motivational ones that we work towards achieving,
    eg fulfilment, success, happiness, wellbeing, security, knowledge, independence, making a difference, …

    VALUES FOR THE JOURNEY – guiding ones that underpin the way we live our lives, eg trust, love, fairness, empathy, environmental awareness, humility, courage, service, compassion, …

    As we go forward, we need to be very conscious of the values we choose to guide our thinking, decision-making and behaviour.

  9. Penelope Beschizza says:

    Thank you Stuart, NVCO and comment contributors above for a very clear-headed approach underpinned by pragmatics regarding the unexpected outcome of the EU Referendum.
    The Deaf Community, as well as our allies in Disability Equality matters, are rightly apprehensive about the future of the U.K – England especially. We also are anxious about the Government’s leadership especially after the past few years of upheavals, still continuing, of the welfare reforms and Access to Work.

  10. John Wilks says:

    Dear Ms Hand

    here is a portion of a sentence in your post:
    “…not everyone in the UK is Xenophobic.”

    By implication, those who voted leave, are. I contest that most emphatically.

  11. Janet Turner says:

    We can not judge people for their desire to leave.
    I personally voted leave, not because of the so called “migrants”, but because I looked at what is happening to other countries within the EU, their voting rights removed, being vetoed at every turn, their economies are in a dire state and many of them also wants leave.
    Young people are going to have to live with this decision in the long term, but older people live here too, are their votes worth less?
    We need to stop being negative and embrace this new start, make the best of it and move on.
    I love this country and we have, since recorded history welcomed and embraced other nationals, that should not changed, I love the diversity in our communities, our language and our opportunity to learn about other cultures, however, that does not mean we should lose our identity.
    I am looking forward to our future, we live in Europe, but our country is Great Britain.

  12. Like Penelope I thank Stuart for a clear headed and pragmatic approach to the future, no matter what it brings. Since when did our stoical nation become so panic ridden? Is this the same nation that stood alone unflinching through the best part of two world wars? When did we become such a nation of quivering jellies, as Stuart says, the poor will still be poor, nothing changes on that front and we just have to do what we do best, which is to roll up our sleeves and make the best of it, that’s what charities do. There is not only no point in crying over spilt milk we should also realise that every bit of negative talk sets us back from out task and causes more unproductive panic. Come on Britain, show some backbone!

  13. Chris Carter says:

    A sad result, in essence I believe the older generation has badly let down the younger generation who are the future of this country. Much about the EU is, in my opinion, wrong and certainly undemocratic BUT the UK’s membership enabled free movement of talent across borders and allowed young people the chance to flourish-if they had the talent. Pulling up the drawbridge has removed that opportunity as well as the opportunity to reform many of the idiosyncratic, idealistic policies of the EU from within. The world has changed dramatically in the last 75 years and we need to address today’s realities. We need to look forward with confidence in the future not hark back to old, outdated and irrelevant-rose tinted- British Empire days.

  14. Robbie Austin says:

    I voted to remain but it stuns me how selfish we have become as a nation that we cannot accept the democratic will of the people. This issue will be divisive for as long as those who disagree with it fight to undermine it. We don’t know yet what the terms of our exit will be so all of the tales of woe are as yet unfounded.
    I suspect when the dust settles and we look back we will see little real difference – the pros and cons of exit being as balanced as the vote itself.
    As Sir Stuart says it is time to pull together. We need to play the hand we have been dealt and not just stomp around because we didn’t get our own way.

  15. Nick Gardham says:

    I absolutely agree with the comments by Sir Stuart Etherington post the EU referendum result. The result, whether from the pro-leave or pro-remain camp highlights the deep divisions that exists in our communities. Both sides fought their respective campaigns on deeply contrasting and confusing debates that were designed to shock voters into making one decision over the other. Seeking gains at the expense of the other is not healthy for a unified and strong society.

    It is now, more than ever, that we must harness the power of the community sector on a whole to create a stronger and unified response to building community. Community Organisers, across England, over the last 4 years have connected with citizens and built trust at the grass roots of communities. Rather than focusing on fear and contempt they have focused on community assets (what individuals perceive as the things that make their communities special). Engaging in this way has created a positive dialogue for change, shared ownership and ignited the impulse to act within communities to bring about the changes that they want to see.

    This activity has worked with, alongside and outside of the existing community infrastructure. It is time now to harness this network and look at how we can build a strong, vibrant and connected grass roots community sector that can interface with larger institutions and organisations that serve community.

    It is as part of this that we must all act as role models for a new way of working. A way of working that moves us away from debate which is about winning, finding flaws in other’s points and is combative to dialogue which is about learning, finding strengths in other’s points and seeking new options by finding solutions together.

  16. Kishore Johri says:

    Well said, Janet Turner!

  17. Catherine Hartley says:

    Well written Stuart and it encourages me to consider the role that a Brass band can play in the community with these national divisions overhead.
    Thank you

  18. Nick Segal says:

    Than you Stuart,
    I have a plan to reduce the harm to staff and service users within our social welfare institutions which requires collaboration from our community.

    Please contact me for further details.
    Kind regards to you and everyone at ncvo and everyone who has commented.
    Nick Segal.

  19. Lucy Jaffe says:

    Dear Stuart, I was inspired to write about how the skills of restorative justice practitioners will be needed even more than before I then saw your piece which chimes with my sentiments. We will have to argue very strongly for the resources to do this and the other vital work described in the comments above.

  20. Paul Biggs says:

    It’s a great pity that the NVCO has such a political bias – it really should be objective and balanced. The hysterical media is the worst place to find factual information. It’s no surprise that those who support the anti-democratic EU don’t like the result of a democratic vote in the UK. There’s no downside to a country asserting the supremacy of its own parliament and courts over an undemocratic political union no one voted for in the first place. The referendum result was clear – even more so on a first past the post basis; 270 of the 399 voting areas voted to leave the EU or 67.7%. The so-called divide was leberal-left plus the rich elite versus ordinary working people – the result was cross-party and cross-race – Labour heartlands such as Wolverhampton and Sandwell voted to leave. Claims of a post referendum increase in ‘hate crimes’ has been shot down by West Midlands Police – the statistic of around 11 reported hate crimes per day in the West Midlands is not a happy one, but it hasn’t increased. What about all the hatred directed at those who voted leave, and those, including some people here, who try to incite hatred between young and old? The UK is better off out of the EU. In terms of trade the UK hold most of the cards – the EU sells more to the UK that the UK sells to the EU, Germany twice as much – so the EU needs the UK more than we need them – trade will continue with ‘little europe’ and increase with the much bigger and expanding world market. As for immigration – the issue is not about stopping it, but bringing net migration down to sustainable levels, which can only begin to happen outside ot the EU’s freedom of movement. This is why many people in the UK of ethnic origin voted to leave – countries outside the EU are discriminated against compared to EU citizens where immigration is concerned – outside the EU we can have a ‘fair to all’ policy. It’s also importnat to recognise that the Leave and Remain campaigns were ‘cross-party’ – bringing people together for a common aim with different political views who wouldn’t normally work together. The ‘young’ should remember that 450,000 UK citizens died in WW2 fighting for the UK’s Freedom, Independence and Democracy – only for it to be given away to the EU.

  21. Kate Williams says:

    There aren’t 10 million racists out there. People who voted Leave genuinely have the confidence that we can do better without the “dead-weight” of the EU. The slogan “Take back control” influenced many more – even in our quiet corner of Hampshire. The elderly, the infirm, people on benefits, people who have not only lost jobs but have lost a whole industry, areas where EU workers outnumber locals 10 :1. Even zones benefitting from EU funding feel that they have no “control”. It remains to be seen how this will pan out, but friends & families have fallen out and it’s really important to get in touch and rebuild.Then we can move forward supporting communities into a positive new start