Last February, I wrote a short piece praising British humour and weather, thanking London for hosting me and, yes, asking Brits to vote for Brexit. The text was full of irony, and I warned the reader that I would not do it if I were British. But, as a European citizen living in London, I did call for a vote out. And I regret it deeply now.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m well aware my text didn’t make a difference on the 17+ million Brits who chose to leave the European Union yesterday. But I feel sorry anyway.
I feel sorry because last weeks I have added one more item to the long list of things I like from this country and its global capital.
I have discovered a European side to London and its British inhabitants that I had never seen before. Yes, most of my friends and London-based Facebook acquaintances are highly educated and sophisticated. And London is multicultural, multilingual and profoundly diverse. Unsurprisingly, it has gone 60/40 for Remain. England is an entirely different story. Still, one didn’t really see EU flags hanging out the window in London flats, and in common parlance locals used to refer to Europe in third person, as if the English Channel was not 20 mile long, as if Britain constituted its own continent. We may easily go back to that sooner than later, but somehow Brits and Londoners campaigning for Remain made me feel welcome in a way that I had never felt before.
Like most people, I was convinced Brexit was not going to happen. Hence I felt I could stand by my ironic and provocative “vote-out-if-you-dare”. And I believed (and still do) the EU had a lot to work on in terms of social rights protection and democratic accountability. So I didn’t want to line up behind Cameron and Osborne.
I felt welcome and confident with my predictions and convictions. So yesterday, when I put an “in” sticker on my t-shirt, I had to clarify to someone that it was “a critical in”. As if it made a difference.
If yesterday I felt welcome, confident and critical, today I feel sad, shocked and sorry.
We’ll have to resort to the trite keep-calm-and-carry-on. We need to live with the consequences. I say “we”, because I for one don’t intend to leave just yet. But I say “we” although I know that the burden will not be fairly shared among “us”. Disenfranchised English working people, many of whom voted out, will suffer the consequences of Brexit just as much they missed most of the benefits of being part of the EU. This strikes me as the most devastating outcome of this referendum.
There are other critical issues that Brits will have to face, of course. For example, the future of a Europhile Scotland outside the EU, the profound divide between London and the rest of England, or the generational gap between a Eurosceptic elderly and a younger generation that had envisioned their future as part of the European Union. That is gone now.
Other European countries will not be in a good mood, and EU institutions are unlikely to let the Tories regroup and trigger Article 50 TEU (the exit door from the EU) at their convenience: “Of course, Sir, we’ll wait until October for you. Anytime, really. Thank you very much for these lovely decades of charm”. England may see Scotland go, Northern Ireland join the Republic and Boris Johnson hold the keys of Number 10. And at this point it’s too early to tell if the meagre chances of having a socialist Labour opposition have just evaporated. After all, supposedly Jeremy Corbyn has also lost this referendum.
Recapitulating, Britain, I understand you couldn’t care less about my opinion, but I still want you to know that I regret urging you to vote out. If I had known, I would have kept quiet. To the 17+ million of you who voted out, I’m also sorry for bothering you with my presence in your country. For now, however, I don’t plan to do anything about that.
The postman just knocked on the door to hand me a parcel. “Thank you”, I say. “You’re welcome, my friend”. Well, at least, I have that.