Thank you to all the well-wishers about Brexit. I probably don’t need to say anything else on the matter as I would likely only express biased political views (just like anyone else who expresses political views), but this has hit me quite hard, and – strangely – I feel a need to defend Britain to a certain degree, despite being aghast at its decision to leave the European Union.
I have lived in the UK for on and off 12 years now. My German partner has lived there for 16 years. As hard-working immigrants in the UK, we have both loved the country for similar reasons: the live and let live attitude, the tolerance, the inclusiveness, the wonderful humour – they were all things that made me proud of becoming a British citizen, holding a British passport, in addition to a South African one. Most of those things form an integral part of the values of the European Union, so my partner and I were surprised that the UK voted to leave the EU, even though there were indications that it might be a close decision. As you can imagine, the two of us (along with the millions of other European and international immigrants living and working in the UK) feel unwanted now.
Many politicians and ordinary people who voted for the UK to leave the EU are saying it’s a good thing that the UK will now be able to make its own decisions without having to be ordered around by Europe, but that it will remain an open and tolerant society. Many of those same individuals are also saying that Britain is not a racist country and that far-right nationalist parties will not govern the UK in the foreseeable future (unlike in other European countries, potentially); in fact, many people who voted to leave the EU expressed anger at being called racist for being anti-EU while all they wanted was for the UK itself to make decisions about immigration into Britain, instead of those decisions being made by the EU. I respect that and even sympathise with Eurosceptic Britons who are not racist. But the fact remains that a whole lot of people in the UK are deeply concerned about the number of refugees and immigrants that could potentially enter the UK under EU rule, even if those concerns and objections are (in my opinion) a little irrational and more than just a little inhumane.
Huge numbers of Britons outside of London, outside of other metropolitan areas in the UK, and outside the whole of Scotland, were clearly anti-immigration, and the vast majority of those voters were of older generations. This brings me to my next point, which is that I feel most sorry for young people in the UK. Approximately 75% of British people aged between 16 and 30 are believed to be in favour of staying in the EU and of continuing a close, inclusive relationship with Europe. Votes by older generations have now left the younger generations with a future Britain they didn’t want.
Then there’s also the matter of the UK having a powerful say in international relations. Historically, and certainly as part of the EU, the UK had a strong voice in international matters. It baffles me how people who voted for the UK to leave the EU thought that Britain would maintain its level of international influence while being excluded of the EU.
What also angers me is that it’s now emerging that a lot of people who voted in the referendum used their vote as a “protest vote”; in other words, they voted against an “elitist” government and an “elitist” London that kept telling them that to leave the EU would be disastrous. They felt that the government and experts in London used tactics of fear and scaremongering to exaggerate the consequences of the UK leaving the EU. Whatever your view, who in their right mind would use as important a decision as staying in or leaving the UK as a “protest vote”? Surely people could’ve used local elections for that?
And don’t get me started on this nationalist sense of Englishness, which insists on putting England first instead of worrying about a unified Europe. It’s a bit of a fucked up world we live in at the moment, and Europe needed Britain for stability, but instead older generations in the English countryside (and a few cities, admittedly) decided to give Europe the middle finger.
We’ll have to wait and see what the consequences are for British nationals, and for European nationals living in the UK. I would imagine that the EU would want to be strict and use the UK as example of why countries shouldn’t leave the EU, but at the same time the most powerful European leader, Angela Merkel, has graciously (and forgivingly) said that there’s no need to be nasty with the UK. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. In the meantime, I don’t think anyone could blame my partner and I for planning our own little exit, albeit an exit out of the UK and into Europe; unless, of course, the EU starts to crumble brick by brick, which is sadly not unlikely. There’s chaos and uncertainty in Europe, and chaos and uncertainty within the UK, and none of it needed to happen.
I wasn’t in the UK to vote for or experience the immediate aftermath of the referendum because I’ve had to make an emergency return to South Africa for a couple of weeks. My partner tells me that in Newcalstle (where I now reside and whose residents voted in favour of staying in the EU) people are crying in the streets. My friends from London, a city that voted overwhelmingly in favour of staying in the EU, are saying that the mood is even more downhearted over there. Half of the country is in mourning, as if they all knew a mutual loved one who died. Sad times for many people in the UK and beyond.
...will keep us together.