The Biggest Risk Brexit Poses Is That Britain Will Lose Itself In the Process
Among all the hostile rhetoric and debates about immigration, many British people have forgotten the losses they themselves will endure in a post-Brexit world
On 10 October of this year, the European Parliament hosted a presentation of two books, “In Limbo” and “In Limbo Too”, which contain hundreds of testimonies detailing the harrowing impact of Brexit on both European nationals in the UK and British citizens living in EU27 states. I had the great privilege, alongside fifteen other people, to read one of these stories to a room where many were shocked by the gravity of the situation. While Brexit may not have happened yet, the hostile environment which has been fostered alongside the government’s reluctance to secure the rights of both groups has already left its scars — from erroneous deportation letters, to xenophobic attacks, and difficulties obtaining permanent residence. These wounds have dug their way down to the youngest of citizens; the poem I read, of a twelve-year-old Italian boy whose family decided to leave England, concludes with these poignant words: “when the result came in, I realised I had to leave the life I loved behind”.
Loss is an overarching theme of these testimonies. Nevertheless, I left Brussels reflecting on another kind of loss which is often forgotten — the British loss. At the presentation, Seb Dance, one of the three MEPs who helped organise the event, shared his own story. He spoke about his grandmother, who, upon leaving post-war Germany and eventually settling in Britain, would only witness the advent of free movement upon turning 91. Jude Kirton-Darling MEP, who was present in the audience, further recalled a time when British women would automatically lose their citizenship upon marrying a foreign national, a law which affected her own family. These accounts remind us of the history of struggle, the division and wars, the restrictions and sufferings, which the UK, alongside the rest of Europe, has endured over the course of the last centuries — a struggle which the EU has battled to resolve and has done so with some considerable success. But while this sense of loss among both European communities here and UK nationals in the continent is palpable, even more tragic is how many Brits at home, in this whole process, have forgotten what they themselves stand to lose.
From when the UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973 to this very day, British people have gained so many rights that it’s easy to forget. We’ve acquired the right to move freely in any of the European member states, to study, build up our lives, and retire there. We’ve received equal protection rights in employment and public services. We’ve benefitted from anti-discrimination laws on the grounds of sexual orientation. We’ve obtained things that would have been unimaginable fifty years ago — and Brexit puts all of this in jeopardy.
Nonetheless, what we will lose means so much more than this. The European Union is not just about providing us with the right to work, live, or retire — it’s given us the right to dream, learn, and love in 27 other countries. It’s imbued us with the liberty to explore, one which is as true in the real world as it is in on our mobile phones. Even more so, Brexit will ultimately be the loss of what makes Britain so special. The country’s liberal tradition and vibrant multiculturalism is what has attracted people from every corner of the earth to its rainy shores. As far back as the 1980s, my mother recalls visiting from bourgeois Italy and being stunned at Brighton’s audacious punk fashions and ethnic diversity. To those repeating the mantra that Brexit will herald a “Global Britain”, how can the country ever be open to the world when it shuts itself from its closest neighbours?
Sadly, the only downside to this all is that, especially as young people, we have been weaned on tolerance and have grown accustomed to it. We cannot fathom a Europe of wars, a continent where we can’t freely build our futures, and a home country without legal protections for many of its minorities. I must confess, having recently acquired a UK passport alongside my native Italian citizenship, that I too had briefly lapsed into this mindset. As much as I never for once doubted Brexit’s negative implications for the British economy and the European citizens living here, I’d suddenly felt safe, as if such problems were no longer my own. I’d forgotten how this country risked losing itself in the process. Brexit fundamentally strips away a future which I, and other young Brits, had been promised from the moment we were born. The future that will be taken away from us isn’t just one of borders and travel limitations — restrictions which I myself will be fortunate enough not to experience — but a future within our country itself, one which we’d grown to believe was open-minded and forward-thinking.
While the economic impact of a hard Brexit may be more immediate, its social ramifications will take longer to present themselves. Because of this, we’ll end up getting used to our limitations. We’ll grow accustomed to the ever-fewer chances to study, work, and live abroad, to a Britain that becomes increasingly insular and self-centred. Our minds will continue to close, our choices decline, and, like in all divorces, it is us of the young generation, the “children” in the family, who will suffer the greatest blow.
As young people, we can’t afford to let this reality slip away from us. We can’t let our lives be walled in a self-imposed prison, allowing our imaginations to be confined by those who resent the freedom which they themselves lacked growing up.
Above all else, we owe it to those who got us here in the first place. Those who fought so that we would never die fighting again. Those who broke the barriers so that one day we could love who we wanted and where we wanted. Those who ensured we would be protected in our work and lives so that our countries would not forcibly ‘protect’ us from the right to move and settle. They turned their dream into our reality — we can’t let it become their worst nightmare.
And so we must never fall into the easy trap of complacency. We must hold accountable those politicians and other people who have decided to clip our wings just as we were leaving our cocoon. We must keep on campaigning and fighting to have a final say on a deal which will be the tipping point of our entire lives. Because, the day we take our future for granted, the future will start taking us for granted.
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Sign and share The Independent’s “Final Say” petition for a vote on the Brexit deal: https://bit.ly/2AbqDgZ