Brexit: Burning our bridges

It’s hard to know where to start on today’s result. Like many, I’m still feeling regular waves of shock, horror and nausea when I think about what we’ve declared as a nation, and what impact it could have on our future and others’. I’ve refrained from blogging on the subject previously, because I’m not as politically informed as the many people whose posts I’ve shared, but now it’s become the only thing I can think about, I’m going to have a stab. Because I’m angry.

I’ve seen a lot of people on my social media requesting that we stop verbally abusing leave voters and tarring them with the ‘bigot’ brush, and that’s fair. There’s already been too much anger and personal hatred in this debate; in fact, that’s probably one of the reasons we’ve made such an insane dangerous ludicrous unprecedented decision. There are various reasons to vote leave, not all of them xenophobia, and I don’t want to continue the harmful scapegoating that’s already far too prevalent, but nonetheless, I’m really, really f*cking angry.

I’m going to do my best to explain who I’m angry with, and why, because I think at this pivotal moment it’s crucial that those of us who feel cheated and disappointed hold accountable those who are responsible for this mess. As I’ve said, my political/economic knowledge isn’t where I’d like it to be, but there are some pretty clear villains in this piece. Here’s who I condemn, and why.

David Cameron, for playing with matches and forgetting his fire extinguisher

Whether you believe he engineered all of this to serve his own eurosceptic ends, or simply tried to appease the public and save his seat by staging a referendum he thought he’d win, Cameron has royally screwed us to serve his own political agenda. My personal opinion is that the latter is what’s happened. Not only that, but he’s allowed the process to be rushed and the campaigns to be conducted in an utterly shameful way that does a disservice to both sides.

Failing to learn from a Scottish referendum which took us perilously close to the edge, he took the cowardly way out and offered the public what they thought they wanted, to protect himself and his own party. In doing so he brazenly ignored the fact that by accepting public office, he’s supposed to have taken some responsibility for what happens to us in the long run. David Mitchell sums up better than I can why the referendum should never have happened in the first place.

Although I never thought I’d be unhappy to see Cameron out of office, I’m unimpressed that he’s stepped down and refused to see through a process that he initiated. Essentially, what he’s done is offer us a big shiny red button and say “On no account press this button.” Not-that-shockingly, given that most of Britain wouldn’t trust Cameron as far as they could throw him, the button was pressed. And now he’s sloping off as we begin to tear apart not just our international community but also our nation, from the inside out.

Farrage and his ilk, for deliberately fanning the flames of bigotry

I’m broadly trying to avoid personal attacks. However, I’m sorry but if you think Nige is a decent bloke, I’m won’t spare your feelings. He’s a vile, manipulative, smug, privileged man who knows just how to twist people round his little finger. I hoped so, so much that he’d become irrelevant after the general election, but the opposite has happened.

He’s somehow managed to tap into the zeitgeist and crystallise an “us vs them” mentality that does untold damage to everyone, not just the immigrants who are “coming over here and stealing our jobs” (/keeping us afloat as an economy/enriching our culture/being normal decent people who deserve to be treated as such). He’s told deliberate, bare-faced untruths to justify his hateful attitude – remember that good old one about funding the NHS with all those mystery millions that are totally there now that the pound has crashed?!

It sickens me how he’s used the rhetoric of “ordinary, decent people” and “Good, British values” to spread lies we’re too naive to see through and confirm prejudices we’re too weak to resist. And, in the apocalyptic worst case scenario which now looks horribly possible, I hope he looks over the burning wreckage of the “great” nation he’s so supposedly proud of, sees what he’s done, and never sleeps a wink again.

The entire political and economic elite, for losing our trust so completely that we didn’t listen when they yelled “Fire!”

They lied to us, repeatedly and cynically, over a period of years, and were somehow surprised when the public ignored the messages from almost every major economic and political body warning of dire conserquences to Brexit. Aside from the flagrant misinformation and poor communication on both sides of the campaign, we’ve got a longer history of mistrust to bring into the picture.

Given the broken promises and shallow opinion-shifting of the last few years, how could the public be expected to believe the people in charge, even when there’s a distinct possibility that they were right about this one? We’ve learned to mistrust and despise politicians. While we now know that this can lead to tragedy, as in the case of Jo Cox, it’s not unfounded in many cases – most big players in the political world don’t give us much to work with. It’s just a shame that Britain has chosen to protest the status quo by basing the biggest decision in recent history on fear and anger.

The electorate, for our selfishness and our failure to take responsibility for our own education

I sincerely hope I’m wrong and that this isn’t the start of a long and terrible process of decline. I hope we don’t fall into an unfixable economic slump that destroys the NHS we tried to protect, that we don’t lose our workers’ rights, that we don’t end up stuck with the Tories forever when Scotland and Northern Ireland inevitably leave*, that we don’t end up in an endless cycle of increased irrelevance, poverty and suffering. But if all those dire prospects do come true, we won’t get to look back and say there was no warning. We’ll be the electorate who put our own heads on the chopping block, and then complained when we couldn’t be stuck back together again.

*Having been vehemently pro-together in the Scottish referendum, I now feel I really have no right to say anything except “please, please don’t leave us alone with them.

If we believed too much of what the leave campaign said, then it’s our own naivety that’s to blame. Britain fell for the idea that it’s a great, powerful, relevant, fundamentally good nation, when in fact we’re no better than our neighbours. We stepped out of the breach when others were suffering, without any grace or even proper consideration of the facts. We should have demanded more of our politicians, and we should have demanded more of ourselves.

The future I’m afraid of

Frankly, I’m scared right now. I’m supposed to be applying for jobs tonight, but I can’t focus on the future because the mere thought of it makes me want to retch with fear. I want to be part of the wider world, creatively and politically – what’s going to happen in that respect? I want to not struggle for food and rent, but buzzing round my head is the knowledge that as far as we know, the promised DIY recession is damn well materialising. Various friends in similar situations have observed that it’s now even more unlikely than before that we’ll ever own homes, or have anything approaching the social and financial stability of preceding generations.

On a more fundamental level I’m scared of the consequences of sticking two fingers up to our closest neighbours, who’ve shown nothing but consideration while we dithered over a) whether we were too good for them and b) whether being in the EU meant we could take more from the world than we put back into it. Now we’ve decided, and in the best case, Europe will be pissed off. In the worst? Who knows. I’m scared my European friends might have to leave the UK and I’m terrified that the anathema will only increase. I’m scared on behalf of all the people we’re failing to help despite our supposed influence, and I’m scared that they’ll react with not un-earned rage. It’s not great.

The future I tentatively hope for

Right now I’m frightened and angry and ashamed of my nation, but – like most – I know we need to make the best of what’s either a crock of shit or a mixed blessing, depending on your view. They say this decision is irreversible; I don’t know enough constitutional law to be sure about that, but assuming that it is, the large minority of us who voted Remain must remain present in the debate, and steer the country away from the streak of bigotry that’s threatening to take over.

I personally think that in the last 24 hours, Britain’s seen the worst side of itself, and I’m ashamed of that. Hopefully it will turn out that many of the Leave voters made their choice with genuinely big-hearted intentions or were simply manipulated, although I fear that many were lured in by pride and fear of foreigners. I respect the fact that Euroscepticism does not have to come along with these things, that you can be internationally-minded and still dislike bureaucracy and fear big trade deals. But these next few months will be telling.

The rhetoric around Brexit set a ludicrously high bar for how we’ll do alone, and who we are as a nation. It claimed we’re tolerant, strong, powerful, kind, honest, honourable, decent people. I’m not one for OTT national pride, but I’ve been known to retweet VeryBritishProblems, and I spent a lot of time pining for home when I was on my year abroad (which incidentally wouldn’t have happened without the EU). If there’s anything I hope for in the aftermath of this momentous decision, it’s that we collectively try to live up to those ideals.

If we end up reaping the bitter fruit of an arrogant assumption that we could go it alone, let’s not blame Europe, or immigrants, or whoever else seems easiest to attack. Let’s hold ourselves and our politicians to account. Let’s continue fighting tooth and nail for the rights of those who need protecting, why ever that might be. Let’s refuse to allow poverty and foreignness to become bywords for ‘unwelcome’, and let’s show Europe that we value the incredible cultures, histories and individuals we’re privileged to live next to.

I love Europe, and for all its impracticalities, I admire and fundamentally believe in the philosophy of working together to be stronger, better, greener and kinder. There are problems with the EU, but I have a feeling that one day I might end up telling the next generation about when we had an incredible opportunity to work together, travel, build something incredible – and we squandered it. Let’s not allow this referendum to legitimise the Farrages and Johnsons who think they’ve won. I want to believe that we can do better, even in the face of adversity. But if we give up now, there really is no hope for us.



Oh yeah, I forgot to mention – if you’re wondering which way I voted, it was Remain.


7 thoughts on “Brexit: Burning our bridges

  1. I read this as a friend posted it on facebook. I see a lot of such comments. It is normal to be angry and afraid when faced with forced change. If you feel like this, and you had a vote, imagine how powerless our children feel, and how scared they are being made by the negativity of the social media uproar.
    Who knows if we will actually leave Europe, we did not decide this on Thursday. Only Parliament has the power to take us out of the EU – we just voted to tell them whether we wanted to tell them to -or not. I do not want to raise false hope however.
    No body really knows what was/is going to happen over the next 10 or 20 years – In or Out. There are many downsides to being outside the EU, I do not know if we will find/make advantages from being out -or if Europe will change and something new will emerge. Inevitably many people have voted emotionally – and many have voted for how they think they will be best off financially – and that will include people from the poorest and the richest . In our country they should have the right to do this without being pilloried for their choices. That is what a democracy allows for.
    I hope that you manage to find your way through the anger grief and loss you are experiencing and that your job search is successful.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good blog, Rowan. Good thinking, thank you for that.
    Democracy is not simply: let the people vote. For example there is direct and representative democracy. May be nations have to learn that democracy needs nurturing, listening, educating.
    There are many good reasons for representative democracy and many good reasons against direct democracy or referendums.
    You have put many of these in clear words.
    Keep thinking and writing and enjoy the summer. If it keeps raining the bridges might not burn.


    • Hope it stops for at least the week of the festival I work at! But at least a conversation seems to be happening that was probably long overdue… let’s just hope all the racism and xenophobia I keep hearing about from friends and on the news gets dealt with quickly and effectively now that it’s in the open :/


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