Will #Brexit be a good thing for our students? A personal account post referendum

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I didn’t vote. I would have, I just wasn’t entitled to. You see, I’m one of the EU immigrants 52% of the country I’ve lived in and contributed to for 22 years has just voted against. Or at least it feels that way. A few folks, clearly well-meaning, have told me that I shouldn’t worry, that I am the sort of skilled worker that this country is now free to attract (this, apparently, wasn’t possible before). “Don’t worry, you’re one of the good ones”, they tell me.

Patronising remarks such as that aside, the problem is that I am not just a skilled worker whose worth has to be measured by other, better entitled citizens. My British wife, my British children and I are quite literally the fruit of the European Union. I did not move here for economic reasons. I would have lived in Spain just as happily. I moved here because I had met and fallen in love with a beautiful, intelligent and kind English girl, who, taking advantage of the free movement of people and labour, had moved to Spain to study and work for a year. On Thursday, 52% of the electorate voted that the concept that brought my family into existence was not such a good idea after all. For the first time in our married life, the interests of my wife’s country of birth and my own country’s interests will no longer be aligned.

I must admit I was very shocked at the Brexit result. I had wagered £2 on a 10 point win for Remain in our school’s referendum sweepstake (by the way, Remain won with 85% of the vote in our internal student EU referendum). Having lived here for so long, I had convinced myself that the British natural conservatism (with a small c) and common sense would secure a Remain win. More fool me. Instead, the people to whom I had started to relate emotionally as fellow countrymen, decided to cut off their noses despite their faces. And what for?

Cartoon by Bruce Mackinnon
Cartoon by Bruce Mackinnon

Daniel Hannam MEP, the Leave campaigner who desperately wanted to lose his job, has already warned that those who voted leave to cut immigration are going to be very disappointed. Nigel Farage, the former city trader and closet racist MEP for a Little Britain few of my British friends and colleagues recognise, has already admitted that telling people we could divert £100 million pounds to the NHS every week if we left the EU was “a mistake”. And Boris Johnson, who yesterday had to rush past a gauntlet of Londoners – the people whose interests he was representing not that long ago – shouting “scum” as he fled to a waiting taxi, has already said we should not rush to exit the European Union from which he has campaigned so hard to extricate us. The EU’s reply? Leave means leave. Get on with it.

Indeed Boris appeared to be the most surprised of all Leave campaigners at their pyrrhic victory. Consensus to reach a deal to remain members of the single market seems to be gathering momentum among the Leave campaigners, leading one to wonder about the congruity of squaring the concept of having to follow EU regulations without having a say in how they are set with the notion of “taking back control”. As things stand, we appear to have gained so much control that soon we may have a Prime Minister nobody voted for.

And, of course, there’s the British economy, which has slipped to being the 6th largest economy in the world, putting France ahead of the UK in 5th position, losing over £200 billion in 24 hours, which, by the way, is enough to pay 24 years’ worth of contributions to the EU’s membership. Yes, markets go up and down and the economy might perk up. But it might not. Was it worth the gamble? We’ll have to wait years to know the answer, and all the while 48% of the electorate and the vast majority of the people formerly known as experts will be pointing their fingers at the culprits/masterminds of this act of self-harm/liberation and lining up to say “we fucking told you so”. David Cameron’s hopes that this country would stop banging on about the EU seem naive and futile in equal measure today. Sorry to break it to you, but that isn’t going to happen anytime soon, David.

The mood was very somber at the Telegraph Festival of Education, where I was fortunate to have spent the most momentous day in recent British history — a day in which a Prime Minister’s resignation was only the second most newsworthy event. Representative of young people across the nation, Wellington students had voted overwhelmingly to Remain in the EU in their own school mock referendum and felt betrayed by what they saw as the stupidest decision this country has ever made.

In a tableau illustrating British societal division, as I was discussing the repercussions of Brexit with fellow speakers at the Master’s Lodge, a security guard who was within earshot piped up that the had voted out and that we shouldn’t worry, because “everything was going to be better”. It transpired he had voted out to safeguard the NHS, convinced that the NHS was under strain, not because this country voted for cuts and austerity and thus got cuts and austerity, but because of the EU. I wonder whether he has now heard what Farage said about not giving money to the NHS earlier this morning. Or whether that will make a difference to his opinion.

As Project Fear turns into Project Reality before my eyes, as I contemplate my mortgage repayments going up relative to the price of my house, as energy bills and the price of my weekly shopping are set to increase over the coming months, I don’t share his optimism. I hope to God that this chap is right and I am wrong. If it turns out that Brexit is the best thing that ever happened to this country, I’ll be the first to admit how wrong I was.

In the meantime, I will continue to remind people that we had a good thing going; that Britain was already Great; that immigrants contribute enormously to this country; that native Brits were more likely to be looked after by a nurse or doctor from the EU than having to wait to be seen behind someone from the EU; that the strain on housing was due to government cuts, not the EU; that inequality is an endemic British problem and was not caused or exacerbated by the EU; and, most upsetting of all, that my children are going to be denied the opportunities their mum and dad enjoyed and took for granted.

Might new, better opportunities open up for them? They are my children. I really hope they do. I hope with all my heart that the panglossian vision that sees the United Kingdom becoming a beacon of world trade and prosperity comes to pass. I hope that the decent, hard-working folks who have blamed the EU for successive UK governments’ failures and who have bought into the loosely substantiated idea that life would be better for them outside the EU are not the first to suffer the consequences of the economic decline that started 48 hours ago.

Though I remain sceptical and angry about the blatantly deceptive claims spouted by the Leave campaign, most of which are now being hastily detracted, I wish and hope that this country, in which I have invested half my life, returns handsomely on that investment, for my children’s sake. Just in case, however, I have started the process that will allow my children to acquire Spanish, and thus EU, citizenship.

As the British people have chosen to speak with their hearts and not their heads, hope is all we have now.

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  1. My mother is Spanish. I remember summer holiday trips to Asturias in the late 60s and early 70s with great fondness. It really was a step back in time: the roads were shocking and there were few new cars; peasants with donkey carts were commonplace and police with guns were everywhere. There were so few immigrants in Spain that many people just openly stared and pointed when I went on holiday with a Hong Kong Chinese friend.

    The transformation in Spain following the death of Franco was astonishing as inward investment from the EU replaced tatty and ageing infrastructure. A new found confidence in democratic institutions, although fragile at first, soon took hold and moaning about life after Franco is now limited to a few crusty old Falangist die hards in dark corners of bars.

    The recent difficulties of the Spanish economy are well documented and they are indeed bound up in the trials and tribulations of the Euro, yet I don’t hear Spanish voices calling for an EU exit. They clearly understand the good that EU membership has done. Under the circumstances taking out dual nationality seems like a sensible step.

What do you think?