CLOSING MY LAPTOP at almost 4 o’ clock, I was nervous going to sleep. But as I’d just seen a flurry of yellow votes for Remain from a handful of London boroughs, Scotland, Oxford and where I voted in Exeter, I went to bed with a sense of optimism, however small it might have been.
And so when I awoke just a few hours later to David Dimbleby still on my screen uttering the words I had feared, I had to look twice and a third time (and probably a fourth to be sure it wasn’t down to tiredness) that I was reading that the United Kingdom had indeed decided to leave the European Union.
My day has been spent mostly being unable to understand the sheer speed at which the repercussions have already been rippling across our islands. I have been unable to think about little else.
Ironically and perhaps poignantly, I received an award for my contribution to and achievements in French today (of all days) at university and joined some staff for a small celebratory lunch. Perhaps unsurprisingly, talk revolved around one thing. There were jokes about how we’d now have to pay double for importing the champagne next time, but on a serious note, one of my professors, who was “bloody devastated”, told me that I was a prime example of what good the EU can do. And, after reflection, she was right. Like many of my friends, tutors and peers here at Exeter and across the continent, I have devoted most of my life to studying each other’s languages and cultures, the relationships our countries and universities enjoy strengthened and fostered by the European Union. The opportunities the EU has given me to work in, study, understand, explore and benefit from Europe has changed my life personally and professionally, and for that I am eternally grateful. Since my year abroad, I have seen my future well and truly intertwined with the EU, but now, my right to live and work there freely is jeopardised, if not gone altogether. I speak not only for myself, but for the hordes of other students and young people who feel their futures have been abandoned.
But I voted Remain with not only my heart, but my head. I fundamentally believe that the UK would have been better off in so many ways by remaining in the EU, my beliefs supported by an exhaustive list of public figures, whose imparted wisdom I’d hoped would have weighed more heavily that it apparently did. Since this morning, we’ve already seen the UK economy lose around $350bn in the space of two hours, the value of the sterling plummet, a Prime Minister resign and parties’ leadership questioned, the threat of another Scottish independence referendum and the prospect of another recession staring us straight in the face. It’s a decade’s worth of politics unravelling in the space of hours.
Of course I respect the beauty that is democracy and thus glumly accept this result, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t resent and deplore the overall decision of my parents’ and grandparents’ generation to leave, because I do. Bitterly. The generation that got their university degrees for free, the mystical ability to buy their own house and decent pensions are the same generation that has now selfishly deprived their children, who voted in their millions to stay, of prosperity.
And for what? Other than what seemed to be their sole argument of ‘we want our borders back!’, the Leave campaign revolved around an impressively vitriolic pack of lies, riding a wave of hatred and fear that sadly pervades the world in 2016, selling false ideals to a scared population fed up with the establishment. The NHS will not be fixed instead of EU membership (the Leave spearheaders are keen to privatise it), we will still see immigration and the economy will, though I am not an expert, not be better off.
In its wake, Brexit has already stirred up more trouble than even a hard-boiled Leave campaigner might have expected. We already knew they were there, but the result has circled with a big red pen the divides that now run like fissures up and down our country: between the rich and the poor, between the classes, between the four members of our Union themselves. These issues, perhaps rather than this issue of EU membership, were what needed addressing first and foremost. I believe the EU has been used as a blue and yellow scapegoat, blamed for the problems that have been created in Britain by Britain, and people have wrongly and cruelly used it as a way of spiting politicians. If this was a ‘protest vote’, then you’ve certainly protested.
And the EU is not perfect – far from it – but imponderable Nigel Farage and the Leave bandwagon describe it as ‘failing’ and ‘dying’. If you are failing your studies, you revise until you get it. If a plant is dying, you feed it, water it, and move it into sunlight. So, you don’t give up and throw it all away. The EU, our main trading partner made up of our friends, is something we have had a considerable part in shaping and promoting over the past four decades, and for that reason alone we have a duty to protect and improve it rather than walking away and closing the door.
I love my country, but at present I am struggling to be positive and love a country floundering in uncertainty and already sitting in a mess that it has put itself in. I am struggling to love a country whose majority has turned its back on its future generations and its much-valued neighbours, who in part help our country as much as we do theirs. For our own sake, I hope everything turns out all right. I did what I could on Thursday, and now I just have to be uncomfortably patient.