Well, a week is a long time in politics. And my thoughts about what to write in this post have changed, are changing, by the day and hour. I know from experience that grief is not a linear process and my Twitter feed illustrates perfectly the various stages of devastation, denial, defiance, anger, and resignation I have experienced – in no particular order – over the last week. I think I am currently hovering somewhere around the denial phase, trying my best to focus on other and more positive things, as writing this post is actually making me feel upset again.
In case you have been living under a rock for the past week or so: on Thursday 23rd June 2016 the British electorate voted by a narrow margin of 51.9% to leave the European Union. Since the nation woke up the next day – some in shock and disbelief, some in celebration, others in confusion and even regret – many insightful, intelligent and often wryly funny words have been written about what led the British people to make this choice. I won’t attempt to add to the analysis, because I am hardly qualified to do so. Which, incidentally, goes right to the heart of this whole unbelievable mess: the country was never qualified to make this decision and ordinary people should never have been faced with it.
Anyway. On the morning after the referendum, self-preservation coupled with a sense of impending doom informed my intention to wait until I’d had a shower and got dressed before checking the results. But as I switched off the alarm on my phone I could not help catching sight of the word ‘Brexit’ amidst a range of angry-face emojis. Now, I don’t want to sound dramatic, but I have never experienced such an emotional fall-out from a political situation, nor thought it possible that I could feel so heartbroken, so devastated as a result of an election outcome. I cried pretty much all day. I went to work without makeup (as I simply had not been able to put it on), safe in the knowledge at least that none of my colleagues would triumphantly wave a Union Jack in my face. I admitted defeat when the salty film on my contact lenses became such that I could barely see through it, and went home. To bed. I could not even bear to switch on the news or look at social media, after having listened briefly to Cameron’s resignation speech in the morning and hysterically shouting swear words at my radio. It. Was. Just. Too. Much.
Because I am not a political commentator or pundit, I will limit myself here to unpicking why for me personally the referendum outcome was such a tragedy. I’ll have to take a deep breath before I do so, hoping that writing all this down will somehow be cathartic.
Firstly, as I said in my last blog, I love this country. You’d be hard pressed to find a more ardent defender of Britain, and the British, than me. So to see this nation ripped apart by seemingly irreparable divisions is very painful for me. Aided by the media, the referendum cooked up years of discontentment, disenfranchisement and anger into a perfect storm of barely filtered ‘us and them’ hatred. Leave voters were understandably incensed to be branded idiots and bigots; Remainers found themselves accused of belonging to a ‘metropolitan elite’ with little or no understanding of what life is like for normal people. Neither of these things are true, on the whole. But both sides seem so hardened in their views that it is difficult to see how we can glue the country back together again – and that in itself I find immensely upsetting.
In the immediate aftermath of the vote I was also left to digest the apparent message that many Britons would rather not have people like me here, which felt truly awful. The rise in xenophobia has been one of the worst outcomes of this referendum, and I am both astounded and hugely sad to read about recent attacks on people who look or sound a bit foreign – regardless of whether they were in fact born in the UK, or another EU country, or elsewhere in the world. As I said before, of course I am exceptionally privileged and I neither look nor sound foreign – but still, I am an immigrant and as such feel despair at the country’s apparent regression to a time where it is somehow acceptable to tell people to go back to where they came from. Again, it is the fear that we won’t be able to pull back from this that is so upsetting.
Perhaps worst of all on that dreadful Friday, however, was the sudden and most unwelcome realisation that I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to live here anymore. That this, the country that is my home, the country I have loved so passionately and often slightly beyond reason, had changed so irreversibly that perhaps it was no longer where I wanted to be.
Now, over a week later, my Brexit hangover continues. I can still barely grasp the enormity of what has just happened. Nobody yet knows the full ramifications and the sheer cost, both in human and economic terms. I am so worried about the longer-term consequences for the country (and for the sector I work in, which relies heavily on European subsidies and collaboration) that I am tempted just to put my fingers in my ears and go ‘la, la, la’ to protect myself from the horror of it all. Ok, so I probably won’t have to chain myself to Brighton Pier any time soon to avoid being deported by Michael Gove in a small white van. And, for now, normal life seems to be continuing: people get up, go to work, buy stuff, drink in pubs. But things are not the same. Battle lines have been drawn; divisions laid bare.
So what now? I have been careful in this post not to lash out at those who voted Leave. They will have had many reasons to do so – some I can identify with, some I cannot. One thing I do know is that adding further fuel to the hatred that is currently tearing us apart is not helpful. I don’t even feel that angry with the Leave voters themselves – as I said in the last entry, I am way more angry with the media and with mendacious demagogues like Boris Johnson who serve only their own interests and care nothing for the people who buy into their shameless lies about ‘taking back control.’
When someone breaks your heart, you don’t just stop loving them the next day. I still love this country, despite everything. And if you voted Leave, I don’t hate you and I don’t think you’re a moron. As Jo Cox MP said so wisely, we have far more in common than that which divides us. This is what I am trying to hold onto right now.