Shock. Fear. Anger. Dismay. Resentment. Shame. Anxiety. Rage. Revulsion. Apprehension.
All words that I’ve read describing people’s feelings after the people of Britain voted for the UK to leave the European Union. I’ve used some of them myself.
Within hours the Pound tumbled to its lowest level for 31 years and France overtook the UK as the world’s fifth largest economy. $2 TRILLION was wiped off global share prices as the shock wave swept around the world.
The Prime Minister resigned. A motion of no confidence has been tabled against the leader of the Labour party. Scotland will make a new bid for independence. The Irish will make a new bid for unification. Opposition leaders in the Netherlands and France have called for their own referendums.
Oh, and American President-elect Donald Trump once again showed his complete ignorance of world events when he arrived in Scotland.
Just arrived in Scotland. Place is going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back. No games!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 24, 2016
The thing is, we can’t say we weren’t warned.
Just about every economist I’ve encountered over the last few weeks has said a Leave vote could have a devastating effect on the economies of not only the UK, which is now more likely than not to plummet back into a deep and lasting recession, but of the world.
If there’s one thing the referendum has highlighted, it’s a massive cultural divide in the UK. Those who feel that multiculturalism is a good thing voted overwhelmingly to remain. Those who feel it is bad voted overwhelmingly to leave. The same is true of immigration, social liberalism and globalisation.
The country is fractured.
‘Broken Britain’ is a phrase that has often been used by euro-sceptics to describe the UK since the mid 1990s when optimism ruled the roost. But the days of Cool Britannia (which, incidentally, is why I use music from the period in my Digital Drive Time series) seems so distant as to be almost mythical now. Ironically, Broken Britain perfectly describes where we’re heading after the leave vote.
The question of immigration was undoubtedly one of the drivers of the vote. Britain is, unfortunately, full of fear and ignorance at present. And let’s not beat about the bush here; it’s full of xenophobia. That’s a horrible, horrible feeling. It makes me feel sick.
When I look around (in a broad sense), I now can’t help but see and feel exclusion, racism, hatred, division, ignorance and stupidity. And I’m bloody angry about it.
There are those who read everything they could, considered the facts and chose to make an informed decision to vote leave. That was their democratic right and if that’s you, while I don’t agree with you, I completely respect your decision.
BUT. I can’t help but feel that, even if you did vote to leave for other reasons, you were complicit in driving a xenophobic agenda that was explicit right from the start.
And I cannot help but harbour contempt for those who voted to leave because they chose to believe the propaganda of the Vote Leave campaign without really understanding the issues or making the effort to find out the facts and seek out the opinions of those who really knew what they were talking about.
And only you know whether you really did all you could to find out the facts or whether you just saw a headline in The Sun.
The Rise of the Right
Let me be clear; this is not bitterness simply about losing a vote. I’m not devastated because I was on the losing side. I’m a Tottenham Hotspur fan; I’m very well-versed in disappointment!
Neither is it specifically about the economy or the decade of financial and political upheaval we now face. It may take many, many years, but the markets will recover and the economy will stabilise eventually. Probably.
What dismays me far more than all of that is the mindset of the people I live among.
I believe this referendum has shifted what it means to be British. For the moment at least, I’m embarrassed to be a citizen of the UK.
And I never thought I’d say that. I never thought I cared enough about it, to be honest!
But I don’t want to live in a country where xenophobia and intolerance are commonplace. I don’t want my children growing among hatred and exclusivity.
And for that reason and for the first time in nearly 45 years, over the last couple of days it’s been playing on my mind that maybe England is not the best place to be living. Maybe moving my family abroad would not be such a bad thing.
The hooliganism by England fans seen at this year’s Euro2016 football tournament in France is symptomatic of the mood of some British people at this time.
Like perhaps most other countries in the world, we’re frustrated by a decade of economic turmoil and we fear the environment of terrorism. There is a huge underbelly of the disenfranchised in the UK who feel let down and neglected by successive governments. They’re angry, they feel powerless and they want someone to blame for the position they’re in. Politicians with their own agendas have been successful in convincing them that it’s the fault of immigrants and the EU.
Though perhaps never far from the beautiful game, the last time hooliganism was a real issue in football was in the 1980s. It is no coincidence to my mind that the 80s were also a time of great economic and social upheaval.
What we’ve done by voting to leave the EU is to plunge ourselves further down into a maelstrom of uncertainty where the marginal political parties gain greater influence.
The resurgence of the racist political far right is worrying. This is far from limited to the UK. It’s an issue in countries including Germany, France, Russia, Poland, Croatia, Belgium and, significantly, America.
But we’ve given a greater voice to UKIP and the BNP. And that cannot, under any circumstances, be a good thing.
I worry about what will happen in the United States later this year as a result. It seems inconceivable that Donald Trump could become President, but what effect will this have on the voting citizens of America? Will they look at this vote and think ‘well if the people of the UK can do it…’?
With a similar rhetoric of ‘taking our country back’ based on fear, ignorance and xenophobia, does Trump now stand a greater and realistic chance of a spell in the White House? And what would that mean for the rest of the world?
Lies and Fantasy Beat Facts
Leaving xenophobia aside for a moment, one of the Vote Leave campaign’s major selling points – its ‘signature pledge’ – was the £350 million per week we pay to the EU, and how by saving that we could plough it into the NHS. That figure was used extensively throughout the campaign and was plastered on the bus that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove used to get around the country.
And yet Nigel Farage confirmed to a rather stunned-looking Susanna Reid on live television on the morning of the result that there was no guarantee the money will go where it was promised and that it was “a mistake” to have made that promise.
Farage also evaded questions about what else might not come to pass.
The Failings of a Generation
Another disturbing element of this referendum is the way the vote was split among age groups. Not content with loading up the global economy to breaking point with irresponsible credit throughout the early part of the century only to see it all come crashing down in 2008, our parents and grandparents have further compounded the problems by voting us out of the EU.
Those aged below 50 voted conclusively to remain in the EU. And among the under 25s, it was nearly three to one in favour. And yet those above 50 significantly outweighed them and voted to leave based on, arguably, old-fashioned principles and a rose-tinted view of what Britain used to be like ‘in the good old days’.
They sold us down the swanny and denied us and our children free movement throughout Europe, relative economic stability and countless opportunities. The people with the least to gain from the result had the biggest influence and yet failed to bother asking the younger generations what they wanted.
Thanks, guys. Thanks.
The View from Outside
What about the rest of the world? Have you wondered what they think about this? I asked some friends of mine in different countries.
Lindsay Bell-Wheeler from Canada:
“This vote was a clear indicator of how xenophobic racism and fear of anything ‘other’, as well as some bizarre, sepia toned dream of the ‘good ol’ days’, seems to have driven people bat-shit crazy.
The good ol’ days weren’t so great. And ‘others’ have built all of our respective nations over the centuries. Just shocking to see how many people were so short-sighted to vote to leave the EU. My first thought when I woke up and read the news was ‘Have fun America!’ because that’s the exact same tide that’s rising south of us with Trump.”
Danny Brown, a Scottish ex-pat living in Canada:
“The ‘United’ Kingdom is no more. Great Britain is no more. Hell, in truth, it’s not been ‘great’ for a long time, but at least there was some hope that it could be again. Now? The four corners are fractured, and have never been as far apart as they are today.
Everyone’s talking about financial implications at the moment, and rightly so. But what about the people implications? This referendum was driven by the language and politics of hate, and the supporters of that hate won. So what happens to the immigrants and ‘non-British’ now? I can’t help but fear it’s going to be open season on these poor souls, and Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech is about to become a reality.”
Corina Manea from Spain:
“From what I saw and read, personal political interests took over the country’s general interest and the UK people’s welfare. They based the Leave campaign on Britons’ daily concerns and promised all problems would be solved by leaving the EU. Unfortunately, Britons took that for granted and forgot what they accomplished in those 43 years inside the EU, and went for the immediate result without thinking of the consequences over their own future.”
Jonathan Bean, a Brit living and working in Sweden:
“Sweden has lost a friend in Europe and faces many of the same issues as the UK. Concerns about immigration, differences between urban and rural folk and a deep longing for the past from a section of society that are not equipped to exist in a post-industrial age.
But perhaps the reason why they will not push for a ‘Swexit’ is because they are not the world’s fifth largest economy and the gap between the haves and the have-nots is not quite as big as their UK counterparts.”
It’s easy to throw blame around, however. The older generations, the disenfranchised, the politicians, the ignorant.
But do WE, those of us who voted to remain, need to take at least some level of individual and collective responsibility for what’s happened? Despite the lies, I don’t believe we’re excluded from culpability.
Over the last couple of months when we talked about it in homes, pubs and offices up and down the UK, did we really drive home our reasoning? Did we actively promote our opinion on Facebook and Twitter? Did we do all we could to influence the vote?
I’ve failed in this area, and I’ve probably been more vocal than many. As an example, a debate broke out in a client’s office on the day of the referendum at a time when most had not yet cast their vote. When asked why I felt so strongly about remaining in the EU, my response was that I had not seen a single compelling reason to leave and that I felt the risk of leaving was just too great.
But what I didn’t do was clearly explain what I feared would happen to the economy, or that I felt the Leave campaign was based on lies and false promises, or that it would inevitably lead to political upheaval at a time when the country needs stability, or that I didn’t trust Johnson and Gove, or that I feared it would give further voice to Farage and the racist far right.
That is my failing, no-one else’s.
My wife made an extremely valid point in the wake of the vote; that being that the Leave campaign had been far more vocal and visible.
She’s right. Those wanting to leave the EU were far more passionate about it than those wanting to stay in the lead up to the vote.
Vote Leave did everything it could to screw up its own campaign. Lies were exposed, publicity stunts were bodged and heavily criticised, celebrities publicly pulled out of events they were linked with and withdrew their backing; at times it was carnage and it was laughable.
AND YET…despite all that bullshit, 52% of the country still voted for them.
So maybe we…you, me and the Remain campaign itself…did not do enough to expose the Leave team.
This is borne out by Google trends the day after the vote. ‘What is the EU?’ was the second highest search result related to the referendum. That’s nothing short of astounding and embarrassing. You wait until NOW to ask?!
Some of the stories that have started to emerge are equally incredible and depressing. “I’m a bit shocked to be honest”, said one interviewed man who voted to leave. “I didn’t think that was going to happen…I didn’t think my vote was going to matter.”
Someone else, when interviewed said: “It’s me and my sisters and my mum and my dad. There’s five of us. We all voted to leave but we now wish we’d voted to remain. We didn’t really understand.”
Someone who works in electoral services reported that they had “people phone up today asking if they could change their vote…because they don’t want to leave”.
I’ve seen people saying they’re upset with the outcome and voted leave just because they were “fed up” or “fancied a change”. You should have got a haircut then!
I’ve read reports of people saying they thought they were voting for the removal of David Cameron or against the Euro or even to leave Europe itself…as in, the continent of Europe!
And these are far from isolated incidents. Like I say: astounding.
All this said, it is what it is.
Sadiq Khan, mayor of the only region in England to vote to remain, London, has come out to reassure the capital’s one million European citizens that they are “very welcome here” and that we are “grateful for the enormous contribution you make [and] the huge benefits [you] bring”.
He has promised them that nothing will change as a result of the referendum and says that “we all have a responsibility to now seek to heal the divisions that have emerged…and to focus on what unites us”.
Wise words. I hope that sentiment is repeated right across the country.
I’ve seen people who voted to leave calling out David Cameron for resigning, shifting the blame by saying we need stability now and that Cameron should steady the ship in the difficult years ahead.
Well, bollocks to that. I’m sorry, but you do not get to make that call.
Cameron’s resignation was virtually guaranteed on a Leave vote. It was screamingly obvious that he wouldn’t stick around to try and sort out a mess that, at least partly, wasn’t his doing (though obviously calling a referendum was) and that he does not and never did believe in. Would you stick in a job you fundamentally disagreed with the purpose of?
And much as it pains me to say it, we need you Leave voters now. We need you to hold Johnson, Gove, Farage et al to account.
They’ve made promises about what the £350 million per week we’ll save will be spent on. They’ve made promises about how the economy will not suffer as a result of exiting the EU. They’ve made promises about tighter controls over immigration. They’ve made promises about it being easier for companies to trade due to not having to deal with Brussels.
If they break these promises, those of you who voted to leave the EU must judge them harshly and you must vote them out of power at the next General Election. Just as those of us who never believed all that crap in the first place will.
I could be wrong. I hope I am. It’s an unknown, after all. I hope that all of those promises are met. I hope that the massive risk we’ve taken pays off.
We are where we are and, difficult as it is, we now have to try and stand together to ensure that we’re delivered exactly what we were promised.