On Friday morning, I woke up to the news that I didn’t want to hear. I had gone to bed quietly confident that the Stronger Together campaign would prevail, but the result shocked the world.
This vote could easily have gone the other way — out of a 72% turnout at the polls, 51.9% voted Brexit while 48.1% voted to stay. I believe that if we had another referendum tomorrow, we would not be facing the uncertain prospect of a future outside the EU.
And I am sad. I feel bereft, as though part of my identity has been stripped away. Oh wait, it has. As it stands, within the next two years, I will lose my European citizenship.
Given that my blog readership is predominantly outside the EU, you may be curious: what has the EU ever done for Britain?
A lot actually. The social, economic, environmental and employment benefits are numerous, too numerous for me to mention all of them here. EU law legislates on issues such as equal pay regardless of gender, and bans discriminating against people in the workplace. The EU Working Time Directive prohibits employers from making employees work more than 48 hours per week on average.
Thanks to EU legislation, we have standards for keeping beaches clean and protecting the environment. The EU recently quashed the British government’s bid to start using bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides in agriculture.
We have the economic benefits from trading in the single market — the free movement of goods, services, money and people.
And there’s the fact that being part of the union gives me the right to travel freely to 27 other countries. It gives me the option to live, work and study in any one of those countries if I chose.
It gives me a European Health Insurance Card which covers me if I need medical treatment in Europe, and I can receive treatment at no charge to myself. It gives me cheap flights, the right to compensation if my flight is significantly delayed or cancelled, and low mobile phone charges so I can easily keep in touch when I’m abroad.
And then there’s the world-class research which is carried out in the UK with millions of pounds of EU support. Business leaders, medics and scientists, leading academics and entrepreneurs have benefited from the fact that Britain is the second largest beneficiary of EU spending on research.
So, yes, I am feeling heartbroken about being cut off from all this. No one is saying the EU is perfect, but what/who is? The benefits far outweigh any negatives.
And I’m feeling so sorry and helpless for my EU friends (and non-EU too) who are feeling unwelcome here. Some of them are already thinking about leaving the country because they don’t want to be part of an isolated England.
Brexit is a victory for prejudice, for fear, for separating ‘us’ vs. ‘them’. Already the reports of verbal abuse and hate crimes are steadily rolling in. The Brexit result has given certain people an excuse to express anger and racism.
On my social media pages today, an American woman reported being told to “f–k off out of the country” (and America isn’t even in the EU!). Family friends have been verbally abused, one while she was out with her children, and and a friend of a friend had dog mess shoved through her letterbox. Are we losing sight of our common humanity? I feel sick.
I am by no means saying that all Leave voters are racist. That is clearly not the case. But it is true that fear and discrimination were used to galvanize people into voting to leave, from false statistics about the amount of money we send to the EU, to images of immigrants behind barbed wire fences that were used to illustrate Leave campaign leaflets.
We must stand against discrimination, racism and hatred. I am still a European at heart. Just as the jus soli rule means that being born into certain countries makes you a citizen of that country, so it was that I was born into Europe and the European values of unity, solidarity and harmony.
But that is a poor consolation when all around me, the country is being divided. The United Kingdom as I know it is crumbling. So. You want me to be happy?
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