Back in June 2016, I cast my vote via proxy for the EU referendum. I did my research and read the literature where I could for both sides from various media sources. But I knew deep down that I couldn’t see the merits of leaving the EU. Having only known the UK’s presence within the EU (and lived in Spain for two years), I truly couldn’t fathom why leaving could be seen as the better option; what with the freedom of movement, and the sharing of values and culture just for starters.
In what was a historic and bold move by the original six member states: France, West Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Italy the European Coal and Steel Community was established following The Paris Treaty, 1951. The original treaty was intended to bring together a fractured Europe, with many countries beaten and broken following the end of World War 2. And the emphasis was to prevent war, yes that which had plagued Europe in various guises for years previously (World War 1 anyone?). Although some critics believed that the union was simply a trade protection deal, the primary aim was to establish a union between countries; to develop lasting relationships with other countries, partnerships that would transcend borders, conflicts and bring people together. The union’s subsequent expansion resulted in the UK’s membership in 1973.
Due to the time difference as the results were filtering in, I was actually at work and stood around with some of my colleagues with our hope in our throats along with our students. Lessons effectively ground to a halt once the final result of LEAVE was announced.
“I didn’t think that would happen,” said one of my students whilst staring at the whiteboard where I was projecting the results live.
Neither did I.
I was in shock and like many, it took me some time to truly comprehend the result. As the dust began to settle, I was incredulous, ‘What the fuck just happened!?’
I count myself as British, but I also count myself as European. I was someone who was part of something bigger than the individual parts. But as a British (and European) citizen who left the UK in 2012 to pursue a life and career abroad, what ‘right’ did I have a say over an EU referendum and its more common and in my opinion, truly awful neologism – Brexit?
Well, I would say I do. I am financially, professionally and personally still invested in Britain. I still contribute to the British tax system, I was educated and trained there, and it is still where my family and the vast majority of my friends live and so their lives affect me too.
In the months following the vote according to the press, the country is divided, almost literally as well as ideologically. In summary, the older the voter the more likely they were to vote Leave, and Scotland was the only country to firmly vote Remain. Those who rejoiced at the result argue that we are free from the what was seen as a bloated bureaucracy that took more than it gave, and in contrast there are those who believe that we have taken not just a (tremendous) step backwards in terms of economic, political and social progress but also a jump into the unknown.
It saddens me to see not just my country divided, but also the ideology that was touted by both sides of the campaign. The Remain camp felt that ‘common-sense’ would prevail, the general public would recognise that the merits of staying in would far outweigh being out. And as for the Leavers, their focus was primarily on the costs of EU membership (and its subsequent effects on the British economy, I wonder if socially and culturally we will actually be much much worse off?) and immigration.
The immigration card was used to good, if not to an astonishing effect that played into the hands of the politics of fear and led to a subsequent moral panic played out across and within the press. Anyone not British and therefore either already living in Britain (with full citizenship or not) or was hoping to, would be seen as either a scrounger or milking the benefits system, or if they did have a legitimate job this was at the cost of not employing someone actually born and raised in Britain. This is despite the fact that some British citizens may not have the necessary qualifications or training (an issue in itself) for said job, or they may not have wanted the job in the first place. Some areas of the Leave camp emphasised solely the cases of immigration that have affected society negatively. It would be inaccurate and misleading to say that all immigration is good, and this is perhaps where the Remain camp faltered, in their inability to present an effective balance of the issue. But the Leavers focus on this was not only disappointing but also disgusting in its rhetoric, promoting what were xenophobic views. Certainly, the rise in reported racist attacks post-referendum illustrates this.
But of course, the vote in June and the waves it created are not isolated and could well have been one of the sticks that broke the camel’s back in terms of contributing to other world events. The news that the American presidential election was won by Donald Trump in November left many, including myself feeling the same way as I did in June, if not worse. Shock led to outrage and then despair (which to an extent, I am still experiencing whenever I look at the news). The now president’s views echo those of the Leave camp, though in a large part taking these aspects to a far more extreme and disturbing edge.
Since June and more recently, I have been forced to change my view of some aspects of the world; socially, politically and culturally. I never thought for a moment that the UK would vote to leave the European Union (naively, I did think that ‘common-sense’ would prevail), and nor did I believe that Trump would win the American presidential election (again, common-sense and all that…). The repercussions of which will be felt and will reverberate for years (decades) to come.
Note: this post was originally written early in the New Year before yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling that Article 50 cannot be enacted until there is a vote by Parliament.