[M]obilise, organise, strategise, and above all hope. Take heart in the fact that you’re more than likely part of [an] optimistic, open-minded gang, that there is a potential there simmering beneath the surface…what you voted for was noble, and one day will be again. Rhiannon Lucy Coslett
Britain is out. Or it will be. The EU, the UK, two unions in turmoil, are looking into separate, uncertain futures, many of their citizens, their voters in shock and disbelief, feeling that this decision has been made without their consent or even their say.
Finding words is difficult, finding words of comfort even more so, especially when, with regard to this referendum, it has been so difficult to speak anyway. Talking politics is difficult at the best of times and this really aren’t the best of times.
I am a European immigrant living in the UK. I have been here long enough that I could apply for legal right to remain if I needed to, I have held a steady job the entire time I have been here, I have never claimed benefits, I have paid all my taxes and I have – thankfully – never needed to strain the resources of the NHS in any substantial way. I’d like to think that I am a contributing member of British society.
And yet I had no vote in a political decision that will have consequences for myself, my friends, the country I have chosen to live in, the country I grew up in, and the rest of Europe.
In that – in having no vote – I am joined with the many young people between 16 and 17 who have as sound a political understanding (dare I say, in many, cases sounder?) as those who did get a vote.
These young people didn’t get a say, either, in a decision that will affect them disproportionately, which was made by people “who will not have to live with the consequences for as long as [them]”. How powerless, how frustrated and betrayed they must feel.
My future is completely changed; I will not have the benefits my parents and their generation have had, such as freedom of movement between all EU countries. Mostly I am outraged that this decision, which reflects on the British people, has been made without my consent. The future already looks less bright for us and it is a future I did not have a say in shaping.
Erin Minogue, 17
Having no say in this monumental decision has truly felt like having no power. Never mind that many would argue that the power of the people in a democracy is mostly an illusion anyway, having no vote makes powerlessness – whether real or illusionary – feel so much more acute.
Intellectually, I know this is not entirely true. I can still speak without fear of prosecution. I can write. I can read. I could have spoken out in favour of the EU, I could have read and written about it, listed its many benefits, constructed a sound and convincing argument and with more insistence voiced my belief that for Britain to leave the EU in a 21st century global world is a foolish, backward-looking, unreasonable thing to do.
I could have said how much I myself and so many others – Europeans living in the UK, Brits living in the EU and everyone living in Britain – are benefiting from the EU (human rights, freedom to move, live and retire anywhere within the EU, jobs, easier holiday travel, consumer rights, safety, better business anyone?). I could have used my voice, even though I had no say.
It took me until now to fully understand why I didn’t say much at all. The idea of the referendum, the increasingly awful campaign leading up to it, the fact that we as Europeans living in the UK were excluded from it have made me feel like someone who isn’t welcome and who has no right to be heard.
I have been afraid, without quite realising it, that if I spoke up to defend my being here, I would end up being branded as someone who, as so many Brexiters so passionately insist, has benefited at someone else’s expense from free movement and the right to live and work anywhere within the EU and come over here and… Can I just remind everyone that Nigel Farage’s wife is German?
It seems selfish now but the prospect of confronting someone who would rather that this country shuts itself off against everything that I passionately believe in and whose mind I had little chance of changing – that prospect felt so much more daunting from a position of an “under-citizen”, or not quite enough of a citizen to have my views respected.
The people who call the shots in this country that I and so many other Europeans who live here identify with don’t identify with us – let alone with those people who need their help so much more than we do – and that has made it very hard to speak and not to resign in the face of all the negativity and the vitriol and the often incredibly disgusting rhetoric that has dominated this omnishambles of a referendum.
Devastated, Frustrated, Angry
Laura Peacock, 18
These are sad, sad times in which people all over Europe and the UK are incredulous and angry.
Anger and frustration come easily to us in situations like this, don’t they? Anger and frustration at “a generation given everything: free education, golden pensions, social mobility” that has “voted to strip [another] generation’s future”.
Anger at those 52% who voted all of us OUT, some of whom must have felt so dejected, so alone and so powerless themselves that they chose any change, as long as it was change at all.
Anger at those of the 52% who apparently voted for Brexit in protest, thinking it didn’t really matter because the UK would never leave the EU anyway. Jeez, if there ever was no time for a protest vote, surely it was this.
Yes, it’s pretty easy to get angry at a probably not unsubstantial number of people who may have based their decision on under-informed gut feelings and hunches as they took to the polls half-blinded by the fog of their inability to Google the facts.
And I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be just as easy to have a good rant (preferably using SHEDLOADS for expletives) and then to leave it at that and to say: “Not my vote. Not my fault.” And then perhaps to walk out and slam the door in a Brexit-like manner.
Disbelief, Anger, Arrogance
Except anger and dejection and arrogance and stubbornness are what got us into this mess in the first place.
The arrogance of a PM who believed it was a safe bet to call for a referendum he didn’t want in the first place just so he could keep a premiership which he has now lost.
The arrogance of political leaders so far removed from their electorate that they failed to see where this was going – just like they failed to see where the last general election was going – and that their campaign to keep the UK in the EU wasn’t working.
The disbelief – or rather unwillingness – of so many to concede that the UK isn’t divided into “sensible people” who would surely prevail and “bigots”, “racists” and “morons” who were taken in by the promises of the Farages and Johnsons but who, in the end, would not win out.
The anger of those wo feel that they have no say, no power and no voice to affect change, with a political establishment that has failed to listen, leaving its people alone to fall prey to those who effectively conned them into believing that this was the way of getting at least some of their power back.
A leap into the dark
Someone said to me on Friday that they would like to know how “the Europeans” are feeling in all of this. Well, I can’t speak for all of them. Some of them spoke to the Guardian though and it was pretty heart breaking. You can read their thoughts here.
“Just… FUCK,” was how one person I spoke to put it and they are not wrong. Neither are people in the arts who have expressed their “rage” and “shame” and “devastation” at this “horrific lack of wisdom, at the criminal abandonment of duty… [this] failure of leadership, by David Cameron” and others, this “abandonment and waste of our youth”, at the hasty rejection of something that people have “been building … since the second world war, and [which] has delivered peace and prosperity.”
Neither are the scientists wrong, who have called 23rd June a “dark day for UK science,” nor anyone who believes that this is
a leap into the dark – and for a while, it will only get darker. This out vote will increase the attacks on all we hold dear.
It is easy to despair, it is easy to see little but gloom and it is hard not to cry when your friends walk up to you with nothing but sadness in their faces and apologize for what their country has done and when they tell you that they are, for the first time, ashamed to be British.
I am sorry too
I had no vote but I could have spoken out more.
But as someone from a country that suffered from a cultural cringe throughout most of my childhood and teenage years, at least let me say this, in defiance, if you will (too little, too late, I know but still):
To all of you, my friends, my acquaintances, my colleagues, to everyone who campaigned, who cast the votes we as Europeans didn’t have, that young people didn’t have, to all of you who have pleaded passionately for the UK to remain, who have made their voices heard, to all of you who sadly now have to hang their heads and admit defeat, to the 48% who said YES, to the 75% of young people who are now worried about their future.
Please don’t forget that, as Rhiannon Lucy Coslett writes, while
[w]e have lost… at the same time [you] have made a powerful statement about the kind of country [you] want to live in…at least we know that we are part of a collective of people who want a better world.
Don’t let that feeling dissipate; mobilise, organise, strategise, and above all hope. Take heart in the fact that you’re more than likely part of this optimistic, open-minded gang, that there is a potential there simmering beneath the surface. By all means feel bitter, and miserable, and worried about what is going to happen next, but after that, please take heart: …what you voted for was noble, and one day will be again.
In a country and a Europe that have been shaken to its foundations, in the face of an uncertain future I, as a European in the UK, still feel very welcome because of you.
And for that I thank you!