Ah, that time of innocence, of long happy summers on warm beaches, of drinking Orangina out of strange-shaped bottles, of trying to extricate unknown seafood out of shells with an arsenal of unknown tools.
OK. Maybe not representative of all of our experience in the EU, and I suspect we’ll still be allowed over there for holidays. But I do feel a sense of nostalgia, and a sense of distant, unquantifiable grief.
I’m not going to get all dramatic about this. I’m sad we’re leaving the EU, but haven’t lost hope. But I do feel grief. It’s akin to the death of a friend of a friend. That feeling of sadness, which isn’t all-consuming, but is ever-present.
Unlike the politicians, I like to make my caveats clear. My knowledge of economics is probably a little above average. I’m interested when it directly affects me, but don’t have a strong grasp of the detail. My political prowess is non-existent. I am, in the main, a libralist, though I don’t align myself to a particular party. I am a europhile. From the gorgeous holidays abroad, to the year spent in France as a student, from the wide mix of cultures, to the friends and relatives working or living abroad or who are working in the UK, having originated from the Continent.
I have worked on research for the EU. Sitting in a meeting room discussing public health on cruise ships sounds far removed from the political machine, but this relatively minor project highlighted some of the EUs strengths and weaknesses for me. We had to dodge round some of the more archaic regulations, and claiming expenses was a drag. There was bureaucracy to deal with and egos to massage. But there was also a lot of compromise, agreement, discussion and a feeling that working together made us stronger. What was the point in having different rules at every port? The ship needed consistency as they navigated the European seas.
So for me, staying in the EU was my natural position. It’s what my heart told me to do. And then, after some reading around the subject, my head followed suit. Obviously, my head will have been biased by my heart, but to me it looked like the rational decision. I think as a parent you become more risk averse, and as a scientist you look for evidence-based decisions. Staying felt like the lower risk option, given the paucity and quality of evidence available.
But it’s done. We’re leaving and I have to move on. No more reminiscing about retsina, I promise.
Economically things aren’t looking good, but I’m sure we will broker deals with the EU, and recover eventually. How much will really change, I’m unsure. I suspect that to retain trade deals were going to end up heavily under the “control” of the EU, regardless.
What does worry me is that this result has been so divisive and has given validity to the xenophobic far-right. As we head into recession again, I worry about the effect this will have on our society, our sense of community. As funding is lost in the charitable and public sector through the loss of EU grants and tendered projects, I wonder how this gap is going to be filled. As the poorer become poorer, at least in the short term, I worry about flash points and unrest, about edging into extremism, about people struggling even more to get by.
We’re going to need to step up. We might have isolated ourselves from our neighbours at a national level, but at a community level we cannot afford to do that. We have to respect that a small majority have voted leave. We need to study their reasoning. Where the reasons are linked to feelings of unfairness, social exclusion, wealth divides and racial tensions we need to counter them. These things will come to a head as we face an economic downturn. We need to become more inclusive, offer support to the poorest in communities, show understanding, celebrate our differences. Most importantly we need to be clear that a vote to leave is not a vote for xenophobia. Despite the rhetoric of some, leaving will have little impact on immigration, and neither UKIP or Britain First have “won”. We need to work together to keep the peace, on our doorstep and on the international stage, and let our neighbours know we are inclusive and friendly.
For the sake of our children.
I haven’t yet worked out the practical steps I can take to do this. I’ll have to come back to you on that one – this was all a bit of a shock to me this morning!