When the whole Brexit thing went down late last year, my American friends were very interested in knowing where I stood on the matter. Not having lived in the United Kingdom (Immigrant Alert! Danger Will Robinson!) for 20 years, not only could I not vote in this historic national referendum to see if Britain was going to stay or leave the European Union (EU), I certainly didn’t feel like I knew enough to make an informed decision. Despite that, being the opinionated person that I am and following which of my British counterparts in my social media feed were voting for and which were voting against, I was pretty certain that if I could vote I would vote to STAY in the EU.
Britain has been in the EU since before I was born. Leaving sounded a little scary and perhaps a tad flippant. Many were saying it was just a protest vote against the current government. And then of course there were my friends that were voting to leave. A small (and I mean small) minority posted some anti-immigrant/refugee memes online and said they were voting to keep out all those damn foreigners. Having lived as a damn foreigner for two decades this certainly did not sit well with me.
And yet, the last time I went back to England in 2007, Blighty’s towns and cities certainly seemed a heck of lot more crowded than when I was a kid. And Brits have been moaning about the housing shortage for years. But neither of those things are the fault of the immigrants. Surely it’s more a lack of planning on the part of those who are supposed to plan. I mean we didn’t join the EU last week and immigration to our fair isle has been going on for centuries. And anyway, we’re Britain; seems to me the folks that managed to set up home in everybody’s else’s country shouldn’t complain too much when everyone shows up on their doorstep. All’s fair in emigration and immigration? Many Brits don’t actually live in Britain (ahem…). So yeah, I was all for staying put and not using racism as an excuse to leave the security blanket that is an economically and bureaucratically united Europe. I knew what side of the fence I was on. Oh for sure. Yup. Not. A. Doubt.
And then Brexit actually happened.
Many of my pro/stay friends went a bit crazy. The nation of stiff upper lips refused to keep calm and carry on. There was a heck of a lot of name calling and a lot of memes referring to those who did vote to leave as racist, stupid, uneducated, short sighted and screwing up our nation forever for the sake of a protest vote. Didn’t “those bloody idiots” understand what they had done? Or what leaving the EU actually meant? Their “racist” vote had set our “glorious,” “enlightened,” shining light of democratic government back decades. What would the world think of us now?
And yet, I struggled to believe my college educated professional friends were all racists. I decided to do a bit more research. Because I wanted to know what was so damn bad about leaving the EU? Finding unbias media was practically impossible; journalists on both sides had forgotten the rules and tantrums, reactionary politics and downright vehement propaganda filled cyberspace. Apparently only racists wanted to leave the EU as there was no valid or educated reason to say goodbye to rule from Brussels. It was very confusing.
And then I stumbled across a video of an Italian talk show host passionately explaining why maybe Brexit and leaving the EU was a good idea after all. He went over several good reasons for Britain finally liberating herself from the over domineering, over taxing, over fining, over controlling everything, running the little guy out of town forever organization. A lot of his audience was shocked but his words were very along the line of ‘big business rules the world please wake up and notice because we are not free we are merely consumers about to be consumed’ sort of thing. He applauded Britain for her step towards independence and echoed the sentiment of some leave voters of revolution and a new British independence day.
Well…when you say it like that, I would have most definitely have voted to LEAVE the EU. No doubt in my mind. I had found some version of events that overlapped with some of my personal politics. I guess I could overlook the stuff that made me uncomfortable for now and try that whole benefit of the doubt thing. I don’t see it as appeasement but more: let’s stop believing the lies that are woven for us; rather look through this web, calm down, stop reacting, do research and plan for the long term. Actually, I do believe that is what most of my friends who voted stay are now doing.
It took a couple of months but things have gone from level crazy to level we’re making another petition and this time we’re adding a march because look how much media it got those Americans. Grief is a process. Waking up to the reality of the world that actually surrounds you and not the one you wish existed can be tough sometimes. But somehow, someway Britain hasn’t fallen apart and civil war didn’t break out.
But of course we’re British, it’s time to keep calm, replace reaction with planning and move forward as a nation. And we’re doing it. Its early days and that new prime minister I’m still not sure of. She seems a bit flakey but I guess I’ll do the benefit of the doubt thing there too. For now, until I find a truly valid reason not to. There still some tension on the ground but people are starting to put aside differences and head to the courts to sort things out. And you know, maybe if the folks trying to block or reverse the departure from the EU just backed off and gave a little island a chance to remember herself, well, you never know what could happen. Is there a peaceful way to do that? Sure there is.
Does choosing to take a breather and gather your thoughts make you the worst nation on the continent? I really don’t think so. Or does it make you the pilgrim, the pioneer, the one who had the guts to say hey why not buy truly local and reduce that carbon footprint and get to know your neighbors and stop this urban sprawl and fix the housing problem, support local farmers, business owners and non profits, create some of your own rules, self determine a cooperative and realize it doesn’t have to be as they say so why keep fighting so hard for it? A little input from everybody and a little less jumping to conclusions and I bet we find a Brexit middle ground. And isn’t that middle ground where we find British democracy? I think that may be the long term way dear old Blighty will exit from Brexit and move on to other things.
Because other things are coming, like it not, and wouldn’t it be better if all of Britain could face those changes together? Like a team. Because at the end of the day a Brit is a Brit no matter where we are and it’s okay to support the home team. It’s just supporting local after all. It takes nothing away from the EU and it certainly doesn’t make this damn immigrant an anti-immigrant racist bent against progress.
At the end of the day I’m glad I didn’t have to vote in Brexit. It means I don’t have to choose sides among my friends. And whether history will determine it was the right or wrong thing to do, I’m hoping for the best right now, in this moment, not down the road. I’m trying to stay calm and I’m trying my best to stay objective because that is so important right now. It could truly keep my country united. Brexit shouldn’t break us. I couldn’t imagine Britain falling apart. I call myself a citizen of the world but at the end of the day, I don’t want the motherland to fail.
And I think that’s not the worse position to hold, is it?