Oh dear, we’ve gone and done it now. I had to wonder if I was having a bad dream when I got up yesterday and looked at the news. Everyone at work and at the AA meeting in the evening was talking about it. Everyone seemed to be in a state of shock. No one was happy about the news. We’re out of the EU – our love affair with Europe is over, finished, that’s it. Many of those around us come from Europe and until yesterday had a secure future here; now they don’t. Foreign colleagues at work and friends in AA had to wonder whether it was worth staying here now. All of a sudden this was a big, important question that no one could answer in a day. The country had unequivocally stated that it didn’t want any more people coming here for free. Beneath the vote could be felt a message of intolerance that you can’t shut your eyes to once you’ve thought about it, no matter how many times they say it isn’t about racism.
In AA although we’re not meant to have opinions on outside issues, it was all anyone wanted to share about. None of us had known how bad the problem was in England, until yesterday. None of us had been aware of how fed up everyone outside London was, of being in Europe and being subject to what they saw as the tyrannical rule of foreigners. In my life I’ve rarely ventured to the parts of the country where the Brexit vote was strongest, I’ve always unconsciously stuck to the cities and big towns on my trips out of London. I’ve never really thought about these places and the kind of existence their residents have, though I’ve always known they were there in theory. I didn’t know anti-Europe sentiments could be that strong – though now of course I understand the reasons why they are.
When it came to vote they must have asked themselves “what’s the EU ever done for me?” Because when faced with a difficult choice it’s natural for one to think first of what benefits one will get from either option. And if you want to explain what’s good about the EU to someone who’s never materially felt its benefits in their life, you can’t do it without taking a lot of time that someone might not have or be willing to give. Where there is visceral resentment against a distant bureaucratic institution, whipped up by a right wing press, at a time of austerity, people will vote to stick two fingers up at the establishment, especially when it sternly tells them not to.
So here we are. The reasons for how we got here are far more complicated than I have been able to describe. It’s not just about xenophobia, austerity, or people being too simple to make an informed decision, although these things have played a part. The question now is, how can the gap between the remainers and the Brexiters be bridged? It doesn’t feel too dramatic to say that the country is broken right now.
It’s no wonder everyone is talking about it today. London is in shock. For me personally, it’s a blow to my future dreams of moving to France or Spain. With another recession looming, the idea of ever getting a mortgage in any country also drifts further towards the horizon. It’s bloody frustrating. But the people who voted to leave the EU don’t care about my aspirations, why should they? To them I’m a distant, arrogant Londoner who has no clue about their problems.
When the dust has settled, life will go on, I’ll still be able to go on nice holidays in Europe (although they’re bound to be more expensive). Maybe one day I’ll manage to get a French visa and keep that dream alive. But the political situation and the immediate impact on my life and that of many people I know is unavoidable for now. It’s honestly upsetting to know that I live in a country that has chosen fear and isolation over openness and inclusion. It would help if we had a strong, principled political class ready to steer us through these choppy waters, but we don’t even have that. Our prime minister has just resigned and the options for his replacement are all pretty scary if you ask me.
It was LGBT Pride in London today. I avoided it out of habit; a few years ago I decided that I’d seen enough Pride parades in London, and the thought of the crowds today just put me off. Given the negative mood following yesterday’s events in the world, maybe I should have gotten over myself and gone today, to experience a bit of inclusiveness and hope. Many of my AA friends were there enjoying themselves, putting Brexit out of their minds for a while. It didn’t even cross my mind to go until the whole thing was over.