I took the bowl of warm milk with a few oat flakes floating on the surface from her and set it gently down on the table. “I just want some normal porridge’ she cried softly, tears welling. It seemed like a small thing to be upset about but this was our second attempt at breakfast and it had gone as badly as the first. We had both been ill recently and were in that vulnerable phase where food was a vital ingredient on the road to well-being. But the tears were not just being spilt over a pitifully poor example of a bowl of porridge, these were tears of grief at the state of our distant homeland, the United Kingdom, split down the middle by a referendum on whether or not to leave the European Union. The vote went to Leave.Being so far away from home and constantly on the move means that we exist in a finely tuned state of awareness, not just for personal safety but also to better appreciate the huge variety of stimuli that bombard us most days. Also, our connection to home, family and friends is of huge importance and we work hard to maintain contacts. Thus, to read of the Leave Vote and the wholly divided message contained in it has been shocking. It has been written that not all Brexiters are racists but all racists are Brexiters. But surely anyone who voted to leave must have been aware, even if only on a very subliminal level, that a vote to leave was to tip your cap in the direction of the far right. Maybe racism is too strong a word for what prompted so many to tick the leave box so perhaps we should refer to it as varying levels of nativism. This is a very slippery slope the UK is now standing on the edge of: have people forgotten the monstrosity of Nazism and how slowly and insidiously that begun to gain hold.
And look what has been unleashed since the vote, an unprecedented surge in racially motivated hate crimes. All of a sudden racists feel that their views have been legitimised and they can now vent their spleens on anyone with impunity. Now it is alright to yell “paki scum’ at someone in the street or laughingly tell your Polish waitress that she’ll soon be going home. What has happened? Is this the British way? Has our politics become so tribal and unthinking that 17-million people actually swallowed wholesale the misinformation published in odiously biased newspapers – The Daily Betrayal indeed – and then also gulped down the lies and self-serving tosh delivered up by the Brexit Leaders. To be honest, it’s impressive how rich people convinced poorer people that their greatest enemies are even poorer immigrants. And now the Brexit rats are jumping ship left right and centre.
We feel dislocated, alienated, bewildered. What has become of the country that two-weeks ago we happily called home? Pre 22nd June I would have told anyone that I was proud to live in one of the better developed multicultural societies in the world and would have poured scorn on America and its awful attraction to the racist rhetoric of Donald Trump. Shame too, shame on parts of the UK for having chosen to pull up the drawbridge and harken back to the glory days of old Empire and some misplaced notion of nationhood. Those days are gone, long gone and good riddance. More than 500 Members of Parliament out of 650 Members want to remain in the EU, the vast majority of the government want to remain. Scotland, Northern Ireland want to remain. The vast majority of economists, scientists and businesses want to stay with the EU. Nearly two million UK residents living in mainland Europe and the vast majority of the under 50s want to remain. There are more and more doubts from those who voted to leave: Google searches on ‘What is the EU’ surged after the vote and Electoral Services call lines were jammed with callers asking if they could change their votes. Yes, the people spoke, but the facts sadly did not.
Power without responsibility has been the hallmark of this process and the U.K. is living in the biggest constitutional crisis in living memory with the country tearing itself apart. The main political parties are in disarray, there is no leadership, there is no direction. And all because 17-million out of a population of 65-million wanted to exit the EU – and you have to look at it in demographic terms because the younger generation and those not yet of voting age are the ones who will have to live with the consequences. The United Kingdom is in one unholy mess.
And for us the notion of what is home has become a very unstable piece of ground, both literally and ideologically. Do we want to live in a marginalised, xenophobic soggy little island in the North Atlantic?
Postscript: From tragedy to farce; it now transpires that there are not enough qualified civil servants to deal with the colossal amount of disentangling necessary for the UK to leave the EU and the civil service will have to recruit from overseas. ThIs process of undoing will take years, huge amounts of money and divert precious attention away from the real problems facing the UK