I have lost something I treasured, and in return I am being offered something I already had.
People voted Leave for many different reasons, and we shouldn’t pretend for one second that they were all bad. Across Britain, but especially in the neglected North of England, and in Wales, voters who felt that no one was listening to them and that something must change, pulled the only lever that was available to them.
But some voters, especially in England, have been intoxicated by the misguided notion of Britain standing apart and better alone. In a campaign where the moderate and compassionate centre of British politics has failed to assert itself (on either side of the debate), the dominant voice has been the jingoism of papers like the Daily Mail and Express, and the ale-frothed exhortations of Farage — sneering vestiges of a post-imperial funk that has lingered since the 1950s.
They have been shameless. They have eagerly offered simplistic solutions to intractable problems, and have been unafraid to demonise foreigners and refugees, happy to pander to the most awful racist fringes of British malcontent. Farage has indeed achieved something incredible here, but with his graceless jubilation and his unforgivable tactlessness, he has proved again that he is unworthy of the sphere of public discourse. His insistence that June 24th be declared our Independence Day was preposterous in the aftermath of a plebiscite that was decided by less than 4%.
And yet, some people were crying into their Union Jacks with happiness on television, others apparently singing Rule Britannia in their gardens at seven in the morning. Clearly something good had happened to their Britain, even as mine, smaller and meaner, collapsed into the grip of an unprecedented crisis.
I’m still stunned and horrified by the result, and I can only try and deal with it piecemeal. So, let’s leave for one second the sterling crash, the rudderless political vacuum at the top of both major political parties, the misery and fear that will be felt by people of all nations who have chosen to live amongst us, the devastation that will be wrought in the parts of the UK that were unknowing recipients of EU funds, and every other urgent matter that faces us.
I’ve been stuck thinking about those jubilant flag-waving Leave voters, about their happiness and my despair. Before we can even tell what the political and economic consequences will be, the emotional impact is keenly felt.
I have lost something I treasured; it is being taken away, and in return I am being offered something I already owned.
I am for now, still, a proud citizen of the European Union. All my life, but especially the last ten years, much of which I have spent in America, I have delighted in the fact that I had common cause with other Europeans. I was proud of our shared values and I enjoyed our vibrant cultural differences. To be European was to be part of a powerful and civilised society of 500 million people; to be British and English inside that greater whole, to contribute, was a privilege.
After Brexit is concluded I will still be small-e european of course, but the sense of shared endeavour will be ruined, the well of trust poisoned. These relationships, many with states that we helped save from Fascism and/or Soviet Communism during the 20th century, have been soured. Our standing on the continent will take decades to recover, if it ever does.
My identity has been changed, forcibly diminished, literally overnight, by this referendum result. Whatever it will eventually cost us nationally in pounds, in damage to our infrastructure or whatever else, here is the first blow: my European citizenship will be stripped away.
The hardcore Faragist Brexiteers, those belting out Rule Britannia or swayed by ‘independence’, seemingly placed no value on any of that. Not that they necessarily disregarded it, just that they didn’t perceive it as something that held value. The emotional transaction that took place has cost them nothing, and in return they have won the victory they have craved. Cast as the heroes in their own spurious narrative, they have defeated EU tyranny and won their freedom.
But in exchange for my heartfelt European identity, I am being offered something that I already owned. I was already a free Englishman, a proud Brit. I was under no oppressive yoke. Both a UK subject and a European citizen, I was happy to vote for representatives at Westminster and Strasbourg, happy to wave the cross of St George, or the Union Jack, or the EU flag depending on the occasion.
Not for much longer. Scottish independence will follow, possibly some Northern Irish accommodation with Eire too. Only poor Wales will be left, an adjunct to a vandal.
The English will have ripped up the fabric of Britain and we will have nothing to show for it but ourselves.