Dear “Great” Britain,
I write this on the Eurostar from Paris, after an unforgettable trip watching Wales get through to the quarter-finals of the Euro 2016 tournament. It felt like living through two bits of history this weekend, only one of which I wanted to witness.
Aside from the joy of watching the boys in red do their winning thing, we’ve had a lovely time exploring the joys Paris has to offer. Good coffee. Hot waiters. Culture. Culinary delights. Frock shops our high street can only dream of. And much, much more besides.
Saturday night I put my son to bed in our Air B&B apartment and my mum sat with him while I went out to wander around Montmartre and soak up the atmosphere. I was only out for an hour but it’s a night that will stay with me forever.
I was proudly wearing my Welsh scarf, and wherever I went there were French people eager to say well done on our win, congratulating me as if I’d come on as a sub in the 83rd minute and scored the winner myself. “Allez Pays De Galles!” they hollered from café tables and street corners. There were fist bumps and smiles. After the ugly scenes we saw between Russia and England (tut) earlier in the tournament, this reaction reaffirmed my faith in the beautiful game, in decent fans, in international love.
The bitter irony wasn’t lost on me, though. It felt like a partner clinging on to a dead relationship by going overboard on compliments. The lover who doesn’t want to be left, in one last desperate attempt to cling on to the dying embers of something that was once beautiful. I both loved it, and felt desperately sad for something we’ve lost.
Only 48 hours earlier I had watched the referendum at a friend’s house. As nervous as I was about the result – it was knife-edge stuff according to the polls – I was feeling cautiously optimistic. I’d voted remain with an extra dramatic flourish of the pencil, and taken my nine-year-old son to witness democracy in action as I have so many times before. “Why would we want to be on our own anyway mum?” he asked. “That would be rubbish!”
Babes, mouths etc.
I’d persuaded four undecided people I knew to vote in, and I honestly believed wavering voters would see sense if they only watched Professor Duggan of Liverpool University’s lecture, that brilliantly exploded every single myth peddled by the Leave campaign.
Their entire campaign had been built on fear, and on unshamed lies (Turkey joining the UK? Turns out they were too busy voting for Chrismas).
Maybe the right-wing rags have too much influence over the easily influenced, but the Sun and the Mail, despite their huge readership, no longer have the monopoly on forming opinions they once had.
The un-policed democratic jungleland that is the internet means it’s easy to seek out information for yourself; to bypass the traditional opinion shaping forces and seek your own truth. That’s what I kept telling myself as the front pages, and campaign posters (“Breaking Point”? Yeah, thousands of miles away guys!) swiftly got worse and worse.
The optimism that a remain vote would just edge it was fuelled by my (in hindsight, mistaken) belief in what sort of country we are.
As much as people clearly wanted to put two fingers up to the establishment, and as much as voters clearly want immigration to be tackled more effectively than successive governments have managed to do, I still thought we would remain in the EU family.
Because I believed (past tense is crucial here) that we are fundamentally a tolerant, caring, human country deep down. I also thought we knew which side our sliced white is buttered on – particularly in Wales, where so many jobs have been created and communities have been improved by targeted EU investment. A quick drive through the south Wales valleys will show you what’s been made possible with EU funds. I know the EU as an institution is far from perfect, and I wouldn’t argue that all of its funding has been spent wisely, but I firmly believe the best way to fix those things would have been to stay in the game, not by picking up our ball and running home.
I have a handful of distant family members who voted out, and their Facebook posts seemed to suggest their only motivation was “sticking it to the man” and being “back in control of our own affairs”. It hardly added up to a credible economic (or any sort of) argument and I thought there were many more people who would listen to the much-maligned “experts” and do the sensible thing for our country.
I believed that.
I’m sorry I believed that now, because I was in no way prepared for what happened last Thursday night. Friday morning I checked my phone as soon as I woke up, and a notification delivered the news I had never seen coming. As I showered I couldn’t tell which water was from the showerhead, and which was my own tears. It felt like a very real grief.
To return to the romance analogy, it was like believing a lover was an open-minded sophisticat for years, only to discover he’s actually a bit of a dick. The force of the shock shocked me. I know I’m not the only one who felt that way.
My best friend came round with a packet of my favourite continental biscuits and hugged me, as we vented our disbelief. A friend called and told me his job and that of his best friend were in danger now. At the Cardiff Business Awards that night, smiles were few and far between. I heard talk of people relocating to Scotland, and there was much uncertainty over the future fortunes of the companies trading with EU countries.
“Nothing will change immediately” they said on social media. Oh, and my favourite: “The people have spoken! Accept it!”.
But a lot HAS changed, hasn’t it? And no, I’m just not ready to accept it yet.
The social cost is mounting already. Swastikas chalked outside synagogues. Racist incidents being reported all over the UK. Hardly anything new, casual racism, but in this new environment it’s almost as if we’ve legitimised it. That we’ve said “Yes, that’s the sort of country we are now”. The sad thing is there is a sizeable contingent of people who don’t need much of an excuse to turn their latent prejudice into out-and-out racist behaviour. All those out voters protesting (too much, if you ask me) that “I’m not racist but…”, I want you to hear this. What you’ve done is given that lot a platform on which to do their racism. You’ve enabled a load of racism. Well done you!
Today’s headlines are that an understandably pissed off French government are thinking of sending refugees over the channel to England. That will become our problem now (that’s if you’re the type of person who believed it wasn’t our problem before now of course. You can get off my blog for a start).
Economically the cost is turning out to prove “Project Fear” right. The Pound is at a 31-year low. Banks may have to be bailed out. This morning I overheard a CEO in the Eurostar lounge on the phone explaining how they’re pulling their planned investment in the UK due to Brexit.
The way the Government has sold many years of swingeing cuts to benefits – slamming the disabled, poor and most vulnerable where it hurts, repeatedly – has been in the name of “clearing the deficit”. How can that possibly be a realistic ambition any more?
Perhaps most terrifying of all is the human cost. All of those people whose lives have been blighted by austerity, was that in vain? The irony that many of these people voted out, because they blamed immigrants for their plight, not the Government, is just too much to dwell on for long. They were sold a pup, and will be paying way over the odds for it for years, while it shits in their garden and eats all their food.
And poor Jo Cox. Did she die in vain? The political events of the last few days suggest she did as factions of the Labour party throw words like “kill” around as if they’re animals on a safari plain. So much for #lovelikeJo and a new politics, right? It didn’t even last out the fortnight.
I’m pretty sick of people who voted out (and even those who didn’t) saying on Facebook “That’s democracy in action, kids! Deal with it, no point moaning now”.
I can’t remember an event that felt more cataclysmic in my lifetime. It was a tiny majority who voted for it, and that majority were lied to repeatedly and lapped it up like lemmings. It took less than 24 hours for that to become clear. As for that idiotic leave voter on BBC news telling the country he didn’t actually WANT to leave the European Union. Oh, right then. Jesus Haitch Fucking Christ. This is what we’re dealing with?
So yes, I’m angry and I’ll talk about all I like, for as long as I like, thanks very much.
I’m angry at Cameron for taking this gamble on our future in a ham-fisted attempt to heal an age-old Tory rift. I’m angry at Farage and his cynical manipulation of an electorate disillusioned with the establishment and the way politics is done in this country. At Boris Johnson, who saw a chance to be PM and jumped ship, sending his beliefs and principles flying on the way down. And I’m certainly angry with the imbeciles who thought they were making a protest vote and are already rushing to tell the world they didn’t expect this outcome.
As for the people who bought into brand Brexit – this miracle cure, the plan that clearly never existed, to rid the UK of a load of foreigners at no economic or social cost whatsoever, I have few word left. Only disdain. Accuse me of liberal elitism, or sneering, of whatever you like. That’s how I feel and it’s as real as your prejudice and/or your lack of ability to decipher facts from fiction by using your brain, the internet, or the “experts”.
Good work, all of you. Now you can get off my blog too. And close the door on the way out. Merci.
Wandering around Paris with my son, his eyes wide with wonder at it all, was so bittersweet this weekend. I want him to have the opportunity to visit here and the family of European countries easily. To work here, live here, love here, to know that we are part of a much bigger world.
The very idea that he’s stuck on an island I no longer recognise, or a Wales that’s proved itself to be the subservient, idiotic little brother clinging on to England’s coat tails, is too much to bear right now as I drink in his face full of hope, and the basic human decency of childhood.
Because his is the generation I mourn for. Economically and socially, the baby boomers have shafted his generation hard. And it’s his generation that will have to live with the consequences. I’m mourning a future he and they will never know now. Not in my name is a great slogan, but feels as redundant as many thousands of jobs are about to become.
I’ll end with a passage by George Eaton in the New Statesman, written before the result, which I hope will resonate with anyone still reading who voted out for “sound economic reasons” or in the hope that Brexit would solve the immigration problem at no cost.
“In recent history there has only been one way of reducing net migration: a recession. Newcomers from the EU halved after the 2008 crash. Should the UK suffer the downturn that historic trends predict, it will need immigrants more than ever. The truth that no politician will utter is that voters may only miss them when they’re gone.”
Britain, if you were a lover, you’d have turned out to be a massive fucktard. If only you were as easy to dump.
PS – Turns out the ‘Brexit Blues’ is a very real thing, because the Guardian had a whole three pages dedicated to it today. Feedback on the original version of this blog and reading that article made me feel less alone. There are a lot of us, the 48%, and there’s some comfort in that, however small. The message I’m hearing is we need to organise, and campaign for a better future, a better politics. I hope that soon I feel able to do that with like-minded people.
PPS – I’m heading back to France for the football this weekend. Quite honestly, Bale et al are all that are giving me any sort of hope at the moment. So I’m Lille-bound on Friday. Last weekend in Paris, I heard the word “Brexit” in cafes and on TVs far too much for my state of mind at the time. So I’ve decided to be more proactive about letting French people know that Brexit isn’t in my name. I’ve ordered the below T-shirt, which I’ll be wearing with pride. Next I’ll need an Italian version for my summer holiday.