Brexit and Remain campaign chiefs in joint call for unity after 'decade of division'
The former heads of both the Leave and Remain campaigns have joined forces to call for a "decade of reconnection" after years of "division" in Britain.
Both Matthew Elliot, who led the 2016 Vote Leave campaign, and Will Straw, who was director of Britain Stronger in Europe, have put their names to an open letter to mark the start of the 2020s.
The message has been signed by a string of cultural and political figures, including Sir Hugh Robertson of the British Olympic Association, Carolyn Fairbairn of the Confederation of British Industry, GMB union chief Tim Roache, and Mike Sharrock of the British Paralympic Association.
It calls on Brits to "reach out" to someone they do not know this year in a bid to "start rebuilding connections between neighbours and fellow citizens" after a bruising decade in politics.
It says: "As we start this new year and new decade, our country feels more fragmented than any of us would like. Too often we hear that our divisions – by class or geography, by politics, age, race or by faith – have come to define us.
“If we are not happy with the state of our society, it falls to us all to do something about it. New Year is the time for resolutions and on this first day of the 2020s, we urge others to join us in making a resolution for the new decade.
“Our resolution is to reconnect. To reach out to just one person we don’t know, or from whom we have drifted apart. To start rebuilding connections between neighbours and fellow citizens."
The signatories add: “While our politics and media have become more polarised we, as people, have not. There is much that we share with each other: sit any two people down together and they will find some common ground.
“So the power of reconnection will depend on how many of us, as citizens, step up together. Every institution, too – not just government but education, business, sport, civic society and faith – should play its part in helping bridge social divides.
“Today is about a small first step that we can all take – to leave behind a decade of division and begin our decade of reconnection.”
The letter has also been signed by a host of religious figures, with the Bishop of Leeds, Revd Nick Baines, joining Imam Qari Asim, Chair of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, in the call.
Others putting their name to the missive include former home secretary Jacqui Smith, who chairs the Jo Cox Foundation set up in memory of the murdered MP, as well as Matt Hyde of the Scouts’ Association, Angela Salt of Girlguiding, and Glastonbury Festival's Emily Eavis.
The plea for unity came as Boris Johnson used his own New Year's message to promise to be a "prime minister for everyone", in a direct appeal to Remain supporters and those who voted against his party in December's snap election.
He told voters: "I am humbled by your support and will work every day to keep it. I am also acutely aware that there are millions of people who did not vote for me and were disappointed by the result.
"If you are one of them, I want to reassure you that I will be a Prime Minister for everyone, not just those who voted for me. I know that you love this country no less, simply because you voted for another party or wanted to Remain.
"More than that, I want to work with you, as friends and equals, as we build the future this United Kingdom deserves."