I’m devastated. I’m torn. I’m numb.
The referendum that never should have been has returned a result that many disbelieve. From across Europe and internationally friends have reached out to me in their astonishment, their confusion. What is happening in your country?
I was on the streets last week. Campaigning for what I believe in. I heard many arguments on either side, but rarely did I hear anyone engaging with the issues. Understanding just what the European Union is, or what it represents. Wanton is the fact that, post-election, Google reports people in the UK are searching to find out ‘What is the EU’.
Several people I spoke to dredged up aspirations that we were about to reinstate the Empire, a few were clear in their reasoning that they were voting because of ‘brown people’ (arriving to our shores from the EU no less). One man invoked the need to act for the ‘greater good’ – while admitting that this would mean recession and loss of jobs. Some grandparents spoke to me about securing their grandchildren’s futures, by leaving. These arguments do not make sense. However, I have lived with the frustration behind them for years – ever since I emigrated to Belgium. I am used to the scepticism, the creasing around the eyes, that meets me back home when I mention where I live.
I reconnected last week and I listened to people’s frustrations, with the economy, austerity, migration and Brussels (used pejoratively). I heard people’s desires to rekindle a past that is no more. It made me realise the lack of a positive campaign message that was able to animate, inspire or otherwise provoke an emotional engagement for the Remain camp.
I have been incredibly lucky in the sheer amount of opportunity that has been available to me. I have lived and worked in 3 European countries, including my own. This is a privilege open to all EU citizens. Yet similar opportunities for other young Brits to follow in my footsteps have just been cut off.
For me remaining in the EU was a clear and easy choice. A no brainer. I do not understand why so many of my compatriots failed to recognise the lies (of the Leave campaign). Ironically, the referendum result will disproportionately affect many of those who voted to leave. The Leavers will be forced to break with one of their two biggest lies: You cannot have both low immigration and a strong economy. One or the other will have to give. Perhaps both. There will be no fresh money to spend on the NHS or services either.
Many will see this result as a generational split. I do in part. While I realise that many of the eldest generation will have voted the same way as I did, to those of you who did not: in my eyes you are the most entitled and selfish generation that has ever lived. I’m sorry for you that there have been so many changes in our society within your lifetimes. I’m sorry that you are left confused, dazed and unable to keep up with the pace of that change. But how dare you sell my generation’s future down the river.
That this referendum was not borne out along party political lines is clear to most interested observers, although many will point to the schisms within the Conservative Party as one of the major causes for the referendum in the first place. Aside from the obvious generational gap other analysis shows that major schisms were marked by people’s differing levels of education and socioeconomic status.
More than anything, my country is clearly split. In fact, it’s more than that. It’s like our ongoing internal familial strife has just been laid bare before the whole world. Our dirty laundry hung out to dry. It’s humiliating, and it makes me feel ashamed. Are we now an inward looking nation? Have we turned our back on internationalism? The UK has a proud history of being an outward looking nation, as evidenced by its role in setting up the post-WWII system of international institutions that this result arguably calls into question. Where do we go from here? What of the 48 per cent?
I hope we can live with our choice. I hope we will muddle our way through it. One part of me is thinking about the various ways we might still stay in the EU (a general election that brings a pro-EU party to power, a veto from HM The Queen, or any of a plethora of other current suggestions doing to rounds). However, the more practical part of me is aware that none of these options will come to bear, that we are stuck on this path, and doomed to our destiny.
Allow me my grief. It is the only way for us to share a future. I am the 48 per cent.