Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said he receives on average ‘two death threats a week’ as hostility over Brexit has increased, but also admits the referendum in 2016 ‘had to happen’.
During the crucial weeks in the run up to the election campaign, David Dimbleby travelled across the UK for a BBC Panorama special on Brexit, speaking to voters and key politicians whilst the political drama has been playing out in Westminster and Brussels.
Speaking to Panorama, Mr McDonnell, said ‘the referendum had to come at some stage, because this issue wasn’t going away’.
He added that the very divisions in society ‘have been reflected in the Labour party’ with some ‘arguing for remain’ but others who ‘still disagree’.
The Shadow Chancellor said he was ‘saddened that our country is divided’ and that he receives on average ‘two death threats a week’ and attributes this to the hostility created by politicians who have ‘exploited’ the divisions created by Brexit.
From party conferences, political rallies, and press conferences, the programme also features interviews with Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid, Brexit Party Leader, Nigel Farage and First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell speaking to NHS staff at an event on Monday. He told Panorama he gets ‘two death threats a week’
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage during a rally at Bentinck Colliery Miners Welfare Social Club in Nottinghamshire yesterday
Mr Dimbleby, who also filmed a Panorama back in 1975 when the last referendum on Europe was taking place and in which leaving the common market was the subject of debate, looks at the state of the UK as the country prepares to vote in a new general election next month.
Speaking on losing Remainer votes to the Lib Dems, Mr Javid told Panorama ‘not everyone always gets what they want, if you live in a democracy’ and ‘that a vote for anyone other than Conservative is support for Jeremy Corbyn’.
Liberal Democrat MP and former Tory, Sam Gyimah, is heard later in the programme talking about the political discourse which has come out of the referendum and says the party’s ‘B******* to Brexit’ slogan used during the EU elections earlier this year was one of the reasons they beat the Conservatives and Labour in a national election for the first time in 100 years.
When asked by Mr Dimbleby if ‘the 17.4 million people [who voted keave] didn’t count’, Mr Gyimah, who crossed the floor over his opposition to Brexit, replied that what was ‘debasing politics’ was a ‘failure of leadership’ to let the public know what leaving the EU really means.
He added: ‘We had a referendum, we had a general election – the general election resulted in a hung parliament. The hung parliament has not been able to decide anything because no one can agree on the version of Brexit we want.
Former Conservative MP, Sam Gyimah, who switched to the Lib Dems, told Panorama that the party’s ‘B******* to Brexit’ slogan was one of the reasons they beat the Conservatives and Labour in the EU elections
Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a meeting of the cabinet inside number 10 Downing Street yesterday. He was described as having ‘balls of steel’ was one Welsh leave voter
‘Given what we know, following three years of negotiations and knowing what is negotiable, remaining is the better option.’
Mr Dimbleby said he found a country divided and met people whose views on Brexit have hardened but also whose party allegiances have weakened.
Previously staunch Labour supporter, Lisa, a hairdresser from Merthyr Tydfil described Boris Johnson as having ‘balls of steel’ and admires him as someone who will ‘deliver leave’.
Whereas factory boss, Greg, who has always voted Conservative, says he can no longer do so, as he found himself making many of his workers redundant back in July because his main Japanese customer moved a large chunk of its business from England to the Czech Republic.
McDonnell told Panorama: ‘I worry about what’s going to happen if Boris Johnson gets his deal through and I worry about jobs and I worry about living standards.
‘I can’t vote for a deal that I think in six, 12 months, two years time, will mean you might not have a job or incomes will not be the same as they are now.
‘What we are saying to them [Labour voters who voted leave] is we’ll get you the best deal with think is possible and then you’ll be able to have a final say on that deal.’
But Labour MP Lisa Nandy who represents Wigan said she was in a difficult position as her constituency voted to leave.
She added: ‘We [Labour] represent some of the most heavily leave and heavily remain areas where what people want and what people voted for and how people feel is very, very different.
‘In Walthamstow a second referendum seems inevitable but in Wigan it just seems absurd.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid leaves Downing Street after a cabinet meeting last week. He said ‘not everyone always gets what they want, if you live in a democracy’
‘I was someone who campaigned to remain and my constituency voted two thirds to leave and I’ve always said that I think the right compromise, because there’s a split out there in the country, is to leave with a deal that protects people’s jobs and their rights at work.
‘A lot of people feel very strongly that democracy is at stake, that they were asked for their views, they gave their views and they haven’t changed their minds. We need to find a compromise and move on.’
At a press conference announcing Mr Johnson’s own Brexit deal, Mr Dimbleby asked the prime minister ‘how will it [the deal] heal the deep divisions over Brexit’.
Mr Johnson told the audience: ‘I think the answer is that it will, because what it will enable us to do is to get the process of extraction behind us and enable us to come together and focus on building a new partnership with our friends across the Channel.’
Chancellor Sajid Javid said the public just wanted Brexit to be over as it was three years since the referendum result.
He told Mr Dimbleby: ‘If this Labour Party ever got anywhere close to power it would crash the economy with the most extreme Leftists economic policies Europe has ever seen in any democracy.
‘All parties have a role to play as Brexit isn’t done yet. People don’t understand why we had a referendum – you [politicians] asked us what we [the public] want, why haven’t you done it yet? Why are you still arguing about it?’
BBC’s David Dimbleby also filmed a Panorama back in 1975 when the last referendum on Europe was taking place and in which leaving the common market was the subject of debate
Following a Brexit Party rally, leader Nigel Farage blamed the 2016 referendum result in mass immigration from Eastern Europe.
He told the programme: ‘In terms of this country, the decisive factor was to allow 10 countries, eight of them former communist countries in, and to add onto that three years later – Romanian and Bulgaria.
‘And suddenly mass open-door immigration flooding the labour market, the minimum wage becoming the maximum wage for millions of people.’
Dimbleby asked ‘why didn’t the politicians spot this, why did they go into the referendum thinking they would win?’
Mr Farage replied: ‘Because they spend too much time in Westminster and not enough time in Watford.’
While visiting Belfast, Mr Dimbleby spoke to a group of protestants about the prospect of Brexit interfering with the Good Friday Agreement, that stipulated there would be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
One man said he would hate for the region to return to the Troubles, adding tearfully ‘I would hate for one single child to have to go through what I went through’.
He described how his father, who was a part-time soldier, was shot dead by IRA militants in 1993.
First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon told Panorama she’s ‘not responsible for the mess the UK’ but ‘it may be that as well as an election a second EU referendum for the whole of the UK is necessary’.
Whilst the next general election is set to be ‘the most extraordinary’ in his fifty years as a journalist, Mr Dimbleby also concluded ‘it will still take a lot more than one election to heal the conflict Brexit has revealed’.
Panorama ‘David Dimbleby: How Brexit’s changed Britain’ is broadcast on BBC1 at 8pm tonight