Brexit Post-Mortem

I don’t even know what to say anymore! I’m laughing right now at how ludicrous the political shenanigans are becoming, but I suspect I will wake up with the doom and gloom again tomorrow, and I despair of ever feeling confident in the British government again. Never mind the Leave voters, who were the cause of my anguish earlier in the week; I think we’ve got bigger fish to fry when the entire political establishment is in combustion in a public spectacle of self-immolation amidst backstabbing, posturing, and the worst display of ‘non-leadership’ I’ve ever seen. It’s like Game of Thrones, British style. All in the interests of the British public of course. Of course.

I dare say this is the biggest problem we have got on our hands right now. Not the EU, although it could do with being reformed from the bottom up, and I’ll go to my grave wishing Britain had led the way rather than left it to the other 27 countries to do so. Not even the awful rise of racism and xenophobia expression that we’ve all liked to pretend wasn’t so widespread before the Brexit vote threw that can of worms wide open. No, we’ve got to live with the fact that all of us on both sides are completely screwed because the whole debacle is being led by a bunch of egomaniacs who construed the entire thing as a means to push their own self-interests, their career goals and their sense of self-importance, and never worked in the interest of the people for a single minute. And really, we shouldn’t be surprised.

Gosh, I had a whole other post on Brexit I was working on, a disjointed tumble of thoughts about my feelings, which is a bit embarrassing and I don’t even know if it’s worth talking about anymore considering the circus happening out there as we speak. Ah, darn it, I’ll share it anyway. I really really want the Leave camp to come up with a plan. Anything, ANYTHING, that will give any semblance that someone, somewhere, is capable of leading us out of this mud pit and to set aside their own agenda, build a bloody coalition and proper proportional representation and away we go. But anyway, here’s how I was feeling before today, and I will probably feel it again tomorrow, once I’ve recovered from the loss of Boris Johnson (the horror!) and the terrifying prospect of a May/Gove contest. Oh, and Labour free falling. Bring it on, how much worse can it get?

after Brexit post-mortem

It will come as no surprise after my last post on Brexit that when the news broke that the Leave campaign had won, I felt shock and horror in equal measure. And disbelief. Heartbreak. Grief. Fear. And after a day or two, anger.

The enormity of what has happened is still sinking in. And now to start processing, reflecting, responding, honouring, denouncing, and over all, supporting each other, casting aside our preferences and leanings and together limp towards the future (well, if I’m allowed anyway, who knows?), over the next turbulent months and years.

Doctor, I need to talk about my Brexit feelings

All the stages of grief can be experienced in one moment, did you know that? It takes quite a while to sift through what you’re experiencing, and to unpick what is valid and what is, well, your personal demons reacting to the news in their own individual ways. So I have a lot of personal vulnerabilities coming to the surface. Like the feeling of rejection, alienation and ‘otherness’ that tried to choke me last Friday as I digested the news. That the last 18 years of growing, learning, paying my taxes, participating in British life, had been for nothing, can be discarded and negated in a moment; that the shaping of my adult life had been dismissed as of no importance by many people I used to know and call friends. My logical mind tells me that my heart is spouting utter rubbish right now and that you can’t erase the past, but you sure can erase other people’s future, and my unskilled 18 year old self would not have been given a chance in a Britain without the free movement of people; I would never had met my husband, never had my children, never had the work opportunities I have had, or the life experience. So I’m grieving this, in an irrational bit of psychological anguish.

I saw messages as early as the day after the vote calling for everyone to get along and for people to ‘move on and accept what’s happened’, as if it was the same as coping with the rise of Freddo frog chocolate prices. Should we really all pretend it’s just another day at the office and switch off our emotions for the sake of, what, making everybody else feel better? I’m not going to pretend it hasn’t grated to see people so easily dismiss the genuine grief of 48% of the population over what we see as the devastation of our economy and of Europe, the destruction of 43 years of hard work after 6 weeks of a shambolic campaign of self-serving lies on both sides. We will learn to accept it, but please, give us some time.

And then of course, there’s the anger that the whole thing shouldn’t have happened in the first place, at least not in the way that it did, led by self-serving politicians who fed us half-truths and forgot to mention a whole load of other things (hello, Northern Ireland and your peace process that is entirely reliant on being part of the EU and the free movement of people) for their own ends.

There’s anger towards the Remain campaign, for failing to make a compelling case for the EU, despite having quite a lot of positive facts at their disposal.

There’s anger, in some of us, towards the Leave campaign, who manipulated people’s emotions and blatantly lied and goaded them to gain levity, whilst utterly failing to prepare a forward plan of action. There’s anger, also, towards the small proportion of Leave voters who used their vote to protest against the establishment, to spite them without regard for the consequences. Why mistrust everything that comes out from politicians’ mouths, apart from on this issue?

I am angry towards past and present governments, Tory and Labour, who so utterly failed to show people, over years, all the good that the EU did for their communities. That the benefits were at least worth some of the cost. Governments who never celebrated the great opportunities afforded Britain by EU funding, choosing instead to communicate their petty disagreements and focusing on the precious precious preciousssss things they lost.

Follow the man with the Brexit plan! Oh, hang on….

I’m also maybe less angry than dumbfounded that, despite the fact that the referendum in itself should be seen as advisory rather than legally binding, people seem to be in a hurry to rush towards the breakdown of everything we have ever known, when what’s become clear out of all of this is that neither side have a single clue how to handle the fallout, neither side have a plan of action. And yet, we’re told we should be excited about this adventure in uncharted territory, as if history doesn’t teach us that going into uncharted territory without a plan, paddle and provisions usually leads to being mauled by a bear or dying of frostbite in the North Pole.

I’ve been struck by the lack of leadership we’ve seen over the last few days from our party leaders and their governments (bar that of Nicola Sturgeon, shame I can’t vote for her and that she’s really backed into a corner she is going to struggle to get out of). To me, this is the key issue in the next few weeks and months. I’m a realist. It does look like we’re going to leave the EU, and I need to make my peace with it (I will still think it’s stupid but I will actively work at embracing the present). But I’m also a logical person, so someone give me logic. In this vacuum, I am looking for someone on the Leave side to give me figures and a realistic view of the future, and I haven’t seen one yet. This is the bit that scares me most of all.

I am astonished (and maybe a bit jealous) at seeing the optimism, the faith, that the Leave voters put in the British government through their vote. Do people really think that, if given more sovereign power, our government will use it more ably and successfully to tackle the issues the country faces than it has had until now whilst attached to the EU? I personally think it is a misplaced faith, and that both parties have a lot to answer for in the wake of this debacle, in how they have successfully ignored the gradual disenfranchisement and increasing poverty of the North and West of England that has always been in their power to address, EU notwithstanding, and created much of the issues being debated today.

I know I need to acknowledge my own privilege as well. I do live in the South East after all and it will do no one any good to pretend that the Leave side in general didn’t have any good reason to vote as they did, against the perceived threat of the EU, and out of a place of deep anger themselves, against poverty, against a lack of job opportunities and a ridiculous housing market, and they were given an excellent scapegoat in the EU. Which is a shame, when I think it should mostly be directed towards the current and past UK governments, who are not, in fact, so shackled by Brussels that they’ve not had plenty of opportunities to care for the most disadvantaged places in the UK, like, say, Cornwall, who voted leave and is now hoping that the UK will somehow be able to dig £500 million out of a magician’s hat to replace EU subsidies without a cost to the country and themselves, like, I don’t know, higher taxes. Yeah, I know, I’m repeating myself a bit. I do wonder how it will pan out though, once we can make a decent comparison from a cost/benefit point of view before and after the EU. I want the facts.

And another thing: every time I hear someone talk about ‘sovereignty’, I literally want to stab my ears with sharp sticks. It’s the most elusive, mythical bollocks to think that more control will mean more money and more compassion for the fringes from politicians whose nearest experience of the fringes is their fortnightly barber appointment. As I said before, they’ve had plenty of time to give it a try before and it’s never materialised. And now everybody’s double backing and Farage is let loose in the EU chambers like a jack-in-the-box (ironically, it’s called a ‘diable en boite’, a boxed devil in French) popping out with a maniacal laugh, sticking his middle finger out to 27 other nations and caring not a jot about the British people who will need every single one of those nations feeling pity enough for us to get even a modicum of a decent trade deal after the dust has settled.

When people go on about ‘making Britain great again’ and that Britain was so much better before the EU, I think they forgot the two World Wars caused by the demands alliances between sovereign states placed on them in the first place. What a dream to want to go back to.

Anyways… I digress, because really, I have no power over any of these things. What I do have, is control over my actions, and I cannot let them be dictated by the feelings Brexit has engendered in me. There is no getting rid of the feelings, and I’m gonna be honest, I suspect it will be a daily fight for me to challenge the contempt, disgust and anger I feel about what’s just happened. But I can’t let it be directed at people. I know I’m fairly protected, living where I do. We’re not well-off, we live on a month-to-month basis and haven’t saved a penny in five years but we’re not poor and we’ve got a house we partly own. We may have to start eating more plain pasta but even as an EU national, it might be years before my status changes in any significant way. I need to be able to put myself in the shoes of the Leave voters, not those who protest-voted, not the racist ones, not the ‘make Britain Great again’ ones, not them. But those British people who have no jobs and no prospects, who have suffered immensely under the austerity measures the government has put in place, who haven’t seen the EU money make much of a difference, I know I can’t blame them for voting the way they did, instead, I need to do what I can to help.

No doubt the EU is in dire need of reform, and I don’t think anyone who supported Remain feels any different from me in this regard, and I sorely wish the UK had been involved in leading the process. But that would have required the setting aside of personal motives for the sake of the good of the many, which is not a quality the British government has displayed at any point in recent years.

In the meantime, the pound is worth nothing and our first visit to my French parents in two years is going to make us dig into our meager savings, so onwards!


What Brexit means to a French immigrant like me

French immigrant view on brexit

A warning from me: I’m talking pretty bluntly in this post because either I was going to share my actual opinion, or I was going to be dishonest so this content is likely to be polarising and make some people uncomfortable or angry. My aim is to challenge, and I’m not an expert, it is an opinion piece, not an economic treatise.

Additional Note: I may in places use Europe and the EU interchangeably. I am aware that they are not the same thing. I am talking about the EU within the concept of a European family.

I’ve hesitated to share my opinion on Brexit because discussing politics can often turn ugly but I’m a French immigrant who has lived in the UK for nearly 17 years and has fully integrated in British culture so I do have an opinion. I shared an article last week on Twitter in which a number of other Europeans shared their views on Brexit, and it triggered something in me, challenging me to respond.

Having been born in France, I feel European but I do understand that it’s more complicated for British people. Geography matters and Britain is a collection of islands that is a part of but not entirely within Europe. Still, a choice was made, years ago now, to join the European Union, backed by some very good reasons that are as valid today as they were then.

What Brexit could mean for long-term immigrants like me in practical terms

There’s potentially a lot at stake if Britain leaves the EU. I do think that economically, not least because of EU trade agreements (that take years to set up), there is a lot of uncertainty as to whether it is a viable option and it would likely create a lot of instability. For me personally, the impact could be very significant. Being a member of an EU nation means you can travel between countries without the need for a visa. Britain might decide to change its mind on that, in which case I will have to apply for a visa. If my husband died, I might not be able to stay in the country, regardless of the fact that my entire working life has been spent in England, that I’ve paid all my taxes in England, that my kids were born here, that my whole life is here. There is no doubt in my mind that I have benefited hugely from living here: the job opportunities and prospects are a lot more flexible and open than in France; I like the informality of work relations, and bureaucracy is at a minimum, making it easy to navigate life. I have no objection to becoming a British citizen by the way, in fact, I would be very happy to do so, but I can’t afford it. It costs about £1,400 and I just don’t have this kind of money available. This said, if Britain left the EU and I had no choice but to become a British citizen in order to remain, I would find the money somehow; moving back to France is not an option. But it is not clear at the moment what leaving the EU would mean for me and thousands of people like me in real, practical terms.

I am aware that people who know me probably don’t think of me as an immigrant, because I am white and the religion I practice is largely invisible. But I am an immigrant nonetheless. So when people talk about protecting the borders and keeping Britain British, they’re talking about me, and they are making me into the foreigner they want to protect themselves from. Where the EU has made me into one part of a whole, pro-Brexit is making me into ‘not one of us’. If you right now are thinking ‘but we don’t mean you! You speak great English, you’ve integrated, you pay your taxes. We definitely don’t mean you.’, that’s only the case because I was a middle-class white girl who found it easy to learn English. I didn’t move to England for economic reasons, and that makes me lucky, not more worthy of being here than poorer economic migrants from Eastern Europe or war refugees. I am lucky because I can hide into the population, because I don’t stand out as ‘other’ despite the fact that I am, just as much as the 7,000 Polish people who live in Mid-Sussex, just as much as the Muslim families who live in Bradford. In fact I’m probably more ‘other’ than they are, because I’ve only been here for 15 years and not two or three generations but my home culture is similar enough to the British one that I can blend in even though there may be a hundred things I do and think that aren’t remotely British, but you can’t tell. So when you are talking about immigrants, you are talking about me. I am more ‘them’ than I am you.

The underlying meaning of Brexit

In terms of real impact from staying vs leaving the European Union, there’s simply no telling. Nothing may come of it, but what it is right now is a powerful statement. It says: ‘there is us, and there is them; let them sort out their mess, it is no longer our problem.’ I can’t tell you how disturbing I find this.

Pro-leaving people keep talking about ‘protecting our borders’, ‘having more say into our own affairs’, the cost of being a part of the EU and the erosion of British values. I don’t know much about this, but the last one at least I can say is a fabricated fear with no basis in reality. Every European nation is steeped in history and is proud of its heritage just as much as Britain is. There is no European country more or less likely to have its national heritage eroded by the EU. Every nation’s history and culture has been acquired over centuries; it’s not going anywhere. Yes it is changing, evolving, borrowing from other nations, but guess what, it has nothing to do with the EU or immigration whatsoever. It’s happening worldwide, through access to the internet and the way that ideas and values are exchanged so much more easily nowadays. Every nation is at risk of change, but not a single one is at risk of being erased. The thing is, change is inevitable, both nationally and personally; change is happening all the time and it is necessary; people and countries who fear change become inflexible and redundant in a world that is ever changing.

Brexit and the Challenge of my Christian Faith

I might have mentioned before that I am a practicing Christian, and from a Christian point of view, there are other reasons why leaving the EU makes me very uncomfortable. If you’re not into Jesus stuff, I’d be interested to know what you think of the following; there is a whole other worldview going on there. We often describe the Church as a family of dysfunctional people who’s only reason for even being in the same room is their belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. There are few, if any, other settings where you can find unity across such a wide range of nationalities, races, cultural backgrounds, age, education, etc, and it is a messy place that takes work and compromise to function. The European Union is a bit like that. We all like to have a laugh at the Eurovision Song Contest, but it is such a unique event, gathering nations with so little in common under one canopy, all because of Europe (well, apart from Israel because no one else will have them, and Australia, because… no one really knows why). The thing is, as small as it is, there is this connection between our nations that make us a European family, an awkward, weird and wonderful, richly diverse group of nations that can get together and have the most bonkers party ever. It’s a glorious thing. It is also, even as tenuous a connection as it may seem, an ‘us’. There is an us, a European people, and this patchwork of varied humanity should be celebrated because of its differences not despite them. Belonging to the EU in no way negates the individual reality of each nation; it is not an homogenous mass, but it is an ‘us’. And when people talk about leaving Europe, they talk about Europe becoming ‘them’, and Britain becoming the only ‘us’ that matters. I find that idea of an ‘us and them’ deeply worrying; as a Christian, it should be anathema.

People who want to leave the EU are talking about claiming back the sovereignty of Britain, of being able to ‘make our own rules’ (as if it wasn’t already the case, or has UK law disappeared altogether when I wasn’t looking?), a chance for Britain to become great again. I have a massive problem with Christians talking about Britain in those terms. It is a way to separate ourselves, to give us distance from ‘those Europeans’ and the perceived EU mess. We all know how people reacted to Barack Obama commenting on Britain leaving the EU: talk of his arrogance: ‘What right has he to stick his nose in our business?’. Well, I’m afraid that if you leave the EU, you will have no right to comment on any future decisions it makes, and you will have no right to complain if the decisions it makes affect you negatively. The opportunities to make a difference and to inform EU decisions, to have an impact at the power source of the EU, can only be found from within as a member, and the opportunities, as Christians, to make a difference in policies and in the lives of people, can be great, but only if you have access. As an outsider, Britain may congratulate itself on not being ‘like them’ when trouble comes, and excuse me if this isn’t the most anti-Christian sentiment I have ever heard. We’re supposed to be there in the mess so we can be part of the solution. Brexit gives the idea that Britain can somehow do better alone than as a part of this ragtag of humanity; if that isn’t a misguided superiority complex, I don’t know what is. It’s ironic, but Christians are not supposed to be a Messiah coming from above to rescue people, they should be in the mud with everybody else giving their neighbour a hand from a place of common ground.

My church has been doing a series of sermons on the Global Church recently and how the call of the Church as a whole is to go to the nations and to love them ‘just as Christ has loved us’. And all I can think is, how can a Christian sit in a church service hearing about helping the poor in Bulgaria or starting a church in Brussels and still think in terms of ‘us and them’ without feeling the hypocrisy, sense of superiority and double standards seeping out of their pores. In this day and age, and in particular within the Church, I question the wisdom of a nation’s or an individual’s desire, even hunger, to reclaim its sovereignty, to wish the clock could be reversed on the fateful day Britain became part of the EU, to hold onto a false memory of the glorious past that never was. Leaving the EU is such a step backwards. That thinking harks back to when Britain was an Empire, and I can’t remember the Empire’s purpose being about compassion and self-sacrifice. As Christians, hoping for Britain to be Great again ‘as in the ancient days’, is wishful thinking that runs absolutely counter to Jesus’ call for us to mingle and care for the poor, the orphans and the abandoned. Right now, the widow and the orphans are the refugees clamouring at our doors. But what we’re saying is that we’d rather stand alone and look after our own interests than do the hard work of community.

Being a part of the European Union is a challenge; that is undeniable. We are sat at a table of unequals, and we have to put our own interests down for the sake of the whole; we have to put our wealth down and we have to give more than others, because we have more than others; seriously, we are wealthier than most other European nations, and it should be our greatest honour to put that money to work so that they too can grow, so that they too can have stable nations so that there is no need for their inhabitants to leave to find work because there’s plenty where they live. There are lots of globe-trotters in the world, but mostly people don’t just want to leave their families behind to find work abroad. They do so because they have to. Is this ‘stable nations all round’ going to actually happen? Probably not. It is going to be hard work and mean fighting with stupid bureaucracy and completely different cultures and lots of misunderstandings? Highly likely. But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean we should leave.

We shouldn’t have the option to close our eyes to the needs of others, but that’s what we’re saying when we’re saying no to the EU. Being a part of Europe is a challenge, because we all fear change, and other people, and that which we do not understand. We like the comfort of what we know. We all have individual prejudices, we are all a little racist and xenophobic, and if we don’t think so, I fear we are in denial. Being a part of Europe forces us to examine our attitudes to other cultures and people. As Christians, it is our duty to face our weaknesses and stamp on them firmly because our greatest call is to serve others, especially those we don’t like. Protecting our interests and leaving when the going gets tough, well, that’s just not the way.


Photo by Clarita via morguefile