It has been eighteen months since the referendum. A fateful, rainy day that has changed the political, social and cultural fabric of this once great nation forever. I think it is important to reflect on what we have already lost and to see these things as harbingers of far worse things to come unless we put a firm stop to all this madness. More people need to say these things out loud, even if they are unpopular, even if it means you are labelled a traitor, simply because they are true.
The inexorable rise of racist and xenophobic attacks is deeply worrying and shameful. I’m sure there was always a significant undercurrent of xenophobia in the country, but Brexit and the resulting descent into politically sanctioned nationalism have given the green light to those people to express their views, not just on social media, but in person. The police statistics confirm this, and I would bet on the fact that official statistics greatly under-represent the real prevalence of this vile behaviour.
What does not help is that our government has also taken an overt anti-foreigner stance. It has repeatedly refused to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living here. It has provided no concrete information on what it will entail to obtain “settled status” and what the process would look like. If it’s anything like existing processes in the Home Office, then that is enough reason to be fearful.
The Home Office makes repeated mistakes and displays a crass lack of judgment, so crass it can easily be interpreted as a conscious policy of driving out non-British nationals. Just look at the recently publicised case of Jennifer Wexler, an American married to a British national. She is an archaeologist who works for the British Museum and has lived here for 11 years. She has been told to leave as her frequent trips abroad for her archaeological work mean she is apparently not entitled to stay, even though those trips were on behalf of a British institution. She and her British husband have been told to go to the US. I can’t begin to understand this decision – how can this be justifiable on any count? And what of the British husband’s right to have his wife with him in his own home country?
I could go on for pages and pages with similar baffling cases where people’s lives are being torn apart by British bureaucracy. Given that EU nationals could become third country citizens in 2019, should they and all their British loved ones be concerned? I, for one, have lain awake during more than one night worrying about my ability to stay with my EU national partner and my British family members who are resident in the EU.
The economic damage inflicted by Brexit is already tangible, even though we haven’t left yet. We are all poorer due to the fall in the value of the pound. Our grocery bills have increased. Some jobs have already been lost. Inflation is growing.
And our credibility is shot. This farce of a government has embarrassed us on the international stage and ripped apart our reputation for making sensible and pragmatic decisions and for being a reliable and steady partner. Our government’s arrogant, childish and nationalistic rhetoric has needlessly and recklessly created enemies where there were long-standing friends. We used to occupy one of the most influential seats in a room filled with our allies, and now we are at their mercy, for we will accept whatever deal they offer us. We have lost so much influence on the global stage, at a time when we need to stand together to deal with threats of nuclear aggression, climate change and much more. Now all we have on the global stage is Boris.
As I have written before, this government has also undermined the fabric of our democracy by rewarding dishonesty in public office and by endorsing the use of dangerous language to describe people holding a different viewpoint: mutineers, traitors, enemies of the people. It is no overstatement to say that this is a move straight out of the fascist playbook.
We have to try to put a stop to all this. We have to keep fighting, so that we do not lose even more. But even if we manage to remain, even if we stay in the Single Market or some other fudge, this damage is done, at least for a generation, if not more.
The inevitable consequence of all this is that people will decide to leave. They are already leaving and they will continue to do so. Brexit and this government have driven out people who contribute so positively to our social and cultural fabric, and we are losing them for good. Even those people who stay here may never be able to look at this country in the same way.
And this does not just apply to EU nationals or other foreigners who had made a home here in the UK. In July 2017, I briefly visited my family living on the continent. When I returned to London, my home of a decade, I noticed that I felt something other than the usual joyful sense of homecoming, for I always loved London and I was proud to be a Londoner. I felt sad, I felt angry, I felt just a bit uncomfortable. I realised it’s because I, a British citizen who is also a committed citizen of Europe, do not feel at home here anymore either. And that realisation breaks my heart.