Britain, you’re not the victims.
This vote didn’t represent the valiant fight for “independence” from tyranny that some are claiming. Though I see the tragic irony that it should happen 100 years on from a generation whose fight did secure the freedoms we have today.
Rather, in 2016 you were one of the central pillars for a EU that stood as a symbol for standing together and helping each other.
A place where people forced to flee from their homes or wishing to provide a better life for their families felt they could come to prosper or, equally, depend on for protection. A place where they felt they’d be welcomed with open arms.
I was proud of these values. I was proud to be British… until the early hours of Friday morning.
At which point my heart sank. The profound sense of sorrow I felt, unlike anything I ever thought I’d feel in relation to a democratic vote. Because usually, democracy goes the sensible way – usually you can count on common sense prevailing even when parties like the BNP or UKIP gain momentary support in certain seasons.
My tone should give away my allegiance – I voted remain, 100%. At no point leading up to the referendum result did I truly believe more than half of the country wouldn’t. ‘Stronger Together’ was the Remain campaign’s slogan, and as I’m sure this country will soon come to realise, it wasn’t just simple rhetoric or a line that looked good on posters. It was a fact. It was common sense.
The only way I can describe my prevailing emotion last Friday morning, and I didn’t fully understand it at first, was grief. Grief for a country I’d previously been proud of. For my national identity – for a place I’d called my home for the first 26 years of my life, now undergoing a change that would, in the long run, make it – and most likely the rest of Europe – look a very different place. Possibly a similar place to how it looked 100 years ago. I foresaw it (possibly, if not certainly) changing into something I didn’t really want anything to do with.
To be clear, I’m not here to dissect the wildly varying ‘facts’ and opinions of the referendum campaign. Enough people will do that, and the answers, though some of us believe we already see the writing on the wall, will become all too clear in due time. I hope beyond hope that ‘leave’ campaigners were right in at least some of their assertions. The future of the UK depends on it.
But then, should our concern really just be for our own country? How this vote affects the rest of Europe (even, dare I say, the rest of the Western world) is just as, if not more vital…
How will we be viewed in the history books as a result of this pivotal vote? Pre-referendum, Britain was a country looked at with admiration by those less well off. Our position of privilege in the world had been used to help others over ourselves. We were actually not far off living out the fundamental Christian values our nation often stakes claim to.
As of last Friday, we’re celebrated across other EU states and further afield in a very different way. In more uncomfortable ways… By right wing parties rubbing their hands together at the thought of using this vote as leverage for pushing through their own agenda… By Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, who both endorsed ‘Brexit’ for reasons I dread to imagine at this moment.
By ISIS, who will use this as further ‘evidence’ that the Western world seeks to ostracize peaceful Muslims and wants nothing to do with them. You may have seen for yourself in the past few days; some British people, whether they may be a small-minded minority or not, are helping support that rhetoric.
A large portion of ‘leave’ voters would take this as a veiled accusation of racism and claim they’re obviously not racist, that’s not why they voted that way. Perhaps they may even have that Eastern European friend they’ll point to in an effort to try and prove it.
Obviously I’m not saying you are racist here, though I’m also not going to hold back certain truths just out of fear of offending sensitive people, or painting with too broad a brush. We all do it at certain points, and I’m in no mood to fine-tune everything I say here or double check all my bases and ask what every single individual person might take from it.
If what I say does not apply to you, I hope you won’t be offended. I am not, after all, directing it towards you personally. But let’s be real; we’re all seeing the narrative out there. We’re all seeing what at least some ‘leave’ voters represent, and as for the rest of you, well… you’re not entirely without responsibility. This is the situation you’ve helped present us with. Now I’m going to proceed to share some of the other images I have of those who gleefully voted ‘leave’, based on my own reading of this campaign and the current socio-economic climate…
Those who voted leave likely aren’t the kind of people who were worried about money, in the sense that they don’t have much savings, or at least if they do, were painfully ignorant about what announcing the UK’s EU departure would do to its value. The pound has dropped significantly since last Friday and while it has somewhat stabilised, it will be quite some time – if ever – before it comes anywhere close to its value pre-referendum.
This means changing your currency when you go abroad will give you less money to spend. It means our country in general will be poorer. Regardless of what trading deal we strike with the EU, even if it’s the most magnificent one we can all imagine in our wildest dreams, it will still not be as good a situation as it was when we were in their exclusive group.
Sure, we’ll “get by”. We’ll prove we can do it without them. We’ll prove we can be an independent country – just one nowhere near as prosperous or influential as it was or could’ve been.
We’ll need to cough up much more capital if we hope to maintain what we currently have, let alone achieve any growth. We’ll be seen as less financially reliable, less able to repay loans if they’re given. One way or the other, the UK will end up paying out more, not less (the leave camp may once again claim this is scare mongering, saying we do not know yet what kind of deals we may strike, but it is a simple statement of fact that comes with no longer having the benefits of being in the EU).
What area in England voted 60% remain, after all? It’s no coincidence that it was London, where the most economically prosperous Briton’s live. And those living in the capital who are upset at the current situation likely have the value of their pocket in mind.
I understand that if you are from a more working class background and do not have any great willingness to improve your prospects any further than they are currently, you of course would not care so much about this. You may even be one of the unemployed who likes to complain that you “can’t get no job” because the migrants have taken it, and you’d rather not work too hard to make yourself a more desirable potential employee. Therefore it’s probably in your best interests to drag everyone else down with you, in turn improving your own prospects while those who’ve worked hard to find financial success have to pick themselves up again – they’ll be able to do that easier than you in any case, for better or worse.
I’ve heard from people in both camps that they were voting “for future generations”.
Well frankly I fail to see how being out of the EU does anything for Britain’s next generation, short of embedding in them the propaganda that “we don’t need them – we’re great on our own”. Their prospects, if we care about such a thing, will naturally be more limited no matter what deal we cut on their behalf with the EU; a EU that we can no longer influence in a positive way from the inside. We’ll just moan and complain from the outside instead; that part of our British culture won’t change. Only now, we won’t have a seat at the table.
Again I think there was something of a social class divide here; a working class family who thinks their children may continue along such lines may indeed benefit from being out of the EU. There will naturally be less competition because less EU nationals will be coming to this country – which also means less skilled workers available, less money spent locally and nationally, all the while we’re spending extra to import goods from other nations… The outlook, even at its most optimistic, has us less well off economically than we ever were inside the EU, with all the natural benefits that brought us. I imagine that supposed £350 million we sent to the EU every week would in the end have seemed a small price to pay for the range of benefits we reaped. But we will now discover this harsh, painful reality quite slowly in the next decade.
Now the curious thing about my reaction to all of this, I’ve come to realise, is my use of the terms “we” or “our” – I suppose this is the result of my considering myself inherently a British citizen, and by default of birth in possession of a British passport (which may, in time, lose some of its prestigious value), because it’s certainly not the result of considering Britain my exclusive home, or a place in which I imagined spending the rest of my life. The truth is I didn’t beforehand nor do I now consider my future to be in the UK, but certainly current events will help determine how I look back on it and whether or not I return with any frequency; perhaps even the terms of my exact departure.
So one could argue this vote doesn’t particularly affect my immediate plans, and that’s probably correct, especially considering it’s going to be at least two years before anything significant changes in the UK. One could argue this was also the case with many other young voters who voted the same way as I; primarily for the freedom of movement and increased education or business opportunities the EU presented. Trust me therefore when I say: it’s the rest of you I’m more worried about. This is why you’ve see some of the older generation, not all of whom are out of touch, state how sorry they now are for the next generation, who will have to bear the main brunt of this decision.
I think recent market fluctuations – with the pound way down, then up, then down again, and finally stabilising but nowhere near where it was before last Friday – and hard line taken by the EU in the early stages of discussions show already that the Remain campaign’s pre-referendum warnings were not just the ‘scare-mongering’ they were labeled as.
David Cameron, realising the scale of the task that now lies ahead and likely without the first clue himself how he would possibly negotiate a good deal for the UK on exiting the EU, has left it all up to his successor (a man the rest of us won’t envy), while leave campaigners are also eager to emphasise that there is ‘no rush’ on initiating Article 50, perhaps realising now that it won’t quite be such a simple job as they had previously insinuated.
In any case, the UK is in for an awkward next two years at the EU table, with other members likely already thinking about subtle ways they can make things harder for us. The whole situation as it stands doesn’t exactly feel deserving of the glorious – bordering on hilarious – declaration of independence that ‘leave’ voters rushed to declare so eagerly last Friday (even though our actual independence – and yes, I feel uncomfortable referring to it as that – won’t happen for another two or even three years from now).
You see, the thing is, it clearly is in the best interests of both parties to continue an amicable relationship. Remain and leave campaigners would surely agree on that (unless, perhaps, your name is Nigel Farage). Therefore, from a common sense point of view I’d argue it’s pretty nonsensical for us to have even considered leaving – as we already have as amicable a relationship as we could’ve hoped for. It must now change drastically; if it doesn’t, then why bother?
I don’t say that because the idea of leaving and having our ‘independence’, as people have called it, is necessarily an unattractive one. Don’t get me wrong, I saw the argument and understood it, but never thought it realistic and even right up to 5.50am last Friday was hoping the British public wouldn’t create such an unnecessary problem for themselves.
As the government, leave voters and the rest of us are now realising, you can’t have it both ways. The EU will be strict about what benefits we can retain. This isn’t a case of keeping what we like and throwing away what we don’t. Make no mistake, whatever happens; a lot of people are going to end up hurting in the short term as a result of ‘Brexit’ when negotiations are complete. We may retain a decent relationship with the EU, but it obviously cannot ever be as close as it was. When they begin to make decisions we don’t like, we won’t be able to influence or stand in their way, having lost our seat at the decision-making table.
Prominent leave campaigners have not yet figured out what their plan is. Their primary target was to win the campaign – and a fair few of them have been conspicuously silent on what’s to happen next, aside from prematurely suggesting that Britain will retain some of those aforementioned benefits we actually rather like. But let’s remember there’s two affected parties at this table, and the EU want what’s best for them, not us.
It is true they need us to some extent; but I believe we’re also relying on them not to throw us in the dirt. They may struggle with the shock of a EU without the UK initially; but they would manage… Whereas we are now kind of dependent on help from elsewhere to survive as the isolationist little island we’ve become. Ironic that, isn’t it, considering this was supposed to be our great “independence day” (a long, protracted, drawn-out 2+ year independence at that)…
Predictions are all we can ever make, no one can see the future – one can’t expect politicians to provide the exact answers or figures on this kind of thing. Where the establishment goes wrong is in thinking they need to – hence the promises they often fail to keep, and the resulting frustrations that were partly what led to 52% of British citizens voting against the very thing our own government recommended we stay in for national security and stability. Our initial instinct so often is to assume they’re just full of shit.
Those who voted Remain were not wrong either for being concerned, and one thing I’ve hated is how both sides seemed to try hitting each other with ‘facts’ when the real fact is, none of us could be sure how this would all turn out. All we did know was that leaving would present the vast uncertainty (in so many areas) that we now face – and the opportunities it would take away to be replaced with that uncertainty.
Somehow ‘leave’ campaigners, and by extension those who voted that way, have managed to convince 52% of us that uncertainty is a good thing, because it ‘might not’ turn out as bad as they say. Maybe not, but it certainly won’t be any better than what we had before. Though if it somehow were better, that would consequently spell doom for the EU… You can start to see the circular problem here, right? Think about it.
In my view, no one wins. Someone will lose, and it’s more likely to be the UK at this point. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit part of me would like to see Britain squirm under the increasing pressure.
Yes, perhaps that makes me a terrible person. The fact that I’m already working on plans to leave myself may be seen as ‘jumping ship’. The leave voters would either claim to be glad to see the back of me or say I’m a sore loser. They perhaps think I should instead stick around to help the rebuilding process of supposedly great “British independence”, though I’m not sure why, as I was among those who wondered why a rebuilding process was ever necessary when we already had a perfectly good structure in place.
Really think about that for a moment. Did Britain truly look like a country that needed some declaration of ‘independence’? I suppose some would say yes; but their evidence would likely involve assumptions of what would happen in future, rather than what’s in front of us right now. Again, whatever now happens in the EU in future, we are no longer there at the table to offer a voice. They could now do the most nefarious shit imaginable, without the UK’s input, if they so wish.
I personally found it somewhat ironic, if not insulting, if not the idea for a crazy satire, for ‘leave’ voters to claim independence when that’s not something we’ve ever had to fight for; rather, many countries have instead had to fight for independence from us. We spent much of our history imposing ourselves on others, taking without giving, only to then willingly vote to turn our backs when we started putting more into the EU than we got back out of it (in the view of some).
Before the voting results I thought there would one day be films made or books written about what might’ve happened had the UK voted to leave the EU. When I woke last Friday morning I thought perhaps I had stepped into that kind of story, only it felt like a nightmare. This stuff feels like it is supposed to be fantasy. Somehow, I can’t quite imagine authors wishing to tell the story of what would’ve happened if Britain remained. Where’s the drama in that?
In the end, long story short (or vice versa, as the case may be), I’m just not sure this ‘UK independence’ is something I want to associate with. Rather like 52% of the British public, I’d prefer to say, “screw you guys, I’m looking after myself”.