Why Brexit Hurts My Heart

On Thursday night and early Friday morning, I watched in dismay as the votes to leave the EU slowly tallied up. Up until the very end, I hoped that ‘remain’ would still pull through, praying that my own constituency of fewer than 320,000 people would somehow magic up 1 million votes to take the lead. It was wishful thinking; it was crazy thinking, but I’ve sadly come to learn that this seems to be the British mindset.

I felt a part of me was ripped away on Friday when the BBC announced that the majority of the British public had voted to leave. For me, voting to remain in the EU was not just about maintaining trade and solidarity with the 27 other members, it was also about identity.

As a child, my parents sent me to a French club at the local sports centre for one hour on a Saturday morning. I loved it. The vocabulary I learned there helped the 11-year-old me to buy a baguette and cheese for our breakfast when we holidayed in France; something so incredibly simple had already opened up my world to another language and culture. In 2001, just before the Euro was introduced, I remember attempting to read aloud in Spanish from a leaflet explaining how the new currency would work around Europe. I didn’t speak a word of Spanish, but it was an introduction to the language before starting to learn it at school just a couple of months later. As a teen, I was lucky enough to take part in school exchanges to Paris and Zaragoza. I studied languages all through school, and once I understood that it was a strength of mine, I continued learning during my years at university. Learning languages has been a part of me for over 20 years now.

As an adult, I’ve been even luckier to easily move my life to EU countries and cities like Nice, Barcelona, La Réunion, and Madrid, without the need for a visa or money in my bank account. The UK being part of the EU most definitely helped me to make those moves and even helped to fund my time abroad during my Erasmus year. Many who have been part of the Erasmus scheme will tell you that their year living abroad changed their life. It certainly changed mine; I wouldn’t be living in Colombia now if it weren’t for the people I met, the languages I learned, and the things I experienced. My life path has undoubtedly been shaped by the opportunities that being part of the EU offered. Being part of the EU has contributed to my personal growth and, in turn, has shaped my identity.

I realise how fortunate I am to have had these experiences; not everyone has the ways and means or even the desire to learn a new language and move to a foreign country. But limiting these opportunities by leaving the EU will surely only do more harm than good. By encouraging nationalist, selfish, and ignorant values we are reassuring a whole population (and the next generation) that it’s better to be closed off to the rest of the world than to be inclusive and work together for a greater good. I’ve been an immigrant for five out of ten years of my adult life, and it has served me and the countries I’ve lived in very well. I’m sure the 1.2 million immigrant Brits living in the EU would agree.

So, why was the Brexit vote so personally heartbreaking? Because it pains me to think that the generation beneath me won’t have access to the wonderful experiences that I have had. It pains me to know that the UK population is so averse to free movement when this very freedom has enriched and shaped my life so greatly. And it pains me to see that a country as powerful and progressional as the UK is becoming increasingly isolated and xenophobic, and that as individuals we are now all tarnished with the same brush. What is this world we live in if it’s not open to inclusiveness? It’s not a world; it’s a tiny island with a tiny island mentality. That’s a place for cowards, and it’s certainly not a place I want to live in.