Image: Unsplash - Chris Lawton

“The Britain I moved to is dying”: Brexit reflections one year later

A few years ago I arrived at Warwick, young and bright-eyed. I felt an immediate sense of homecoming. But I carried a secret. I wasn’t from Worcester or Warrington, but had migrated from the EU. At the time I thought this could hardly matter, but since then I’ve seen Brexit plunge a once great nation into chaos and witnessed what may be the final fall of a once great nation.

Despite the rhetoric of the immigration debate, people don’t come to Britain to live off welfare – Britain doesn’t have much of it comparatively speaking. It is the bantering culture, friendly residents, and the lack of judgement that attract people. In England you aren’t your ethnic heritage. If you think Brits are racist, then you probably haven’t met the average European.

This tolerance, coupled with a booming London, meant that many people saw moving to the UK as an attractive prospect. Come here, live life as you want, and feel like you’re part of something. And if the London bubble starts cooling, then there’s always Birmingham, Coventry, or even Rugby. Things went so well that the government chose not to control migration, unlike France and Germany. Immigrants stopped being just that – immigrants; instead they became citizens. Nowhere else in Europe did integration work so well in the early 2000s.

Politicians were slow to react and in their place stepped charlatans who said they could turn back the clock

What came to be Britain’s undoing was the financial crisis. This country has long has a fault-line going through it: rich and poor don’t mix – some would stretch so far as to say they appear as a different kind. The financial crisis ripped along this divide, and this immigration became a handy scapegoat.

England wasn’t alone though; I remember that fateful summer of 2008. Friends’ parents lost their livelihoods. My then-community was suddenly in its death-throes. Politicians were slow to react and in their place stepped charlatans who said they could turn back the clock.

The idea that booting out migrants betters anything is similarly enticing, and similarly stupid. But it is easier to cast aspersions about who belongs and who doesn’t. But we let that happen. It was perfectly predictable that people without jobs would, eventually, revolt. At Warwick we imagine we, in particular, deserve to be here. It might be so, but lots of us share the same upper-middle-class upbringing. People in Coventry didn’t get the chance to get top grades, and we’re worse off for it.

I’m sort of waiting for someone to call and say “It’ll be alright, you can come home now.”

The day after the vote was a bit of a blur. I vaguely remember everyone sitting around a table and toasting a local feast in a language that was now difficult to keep up with. Through the first few months I didn’t get out much. After work I’d just wander through the nearby woods, pondering. I felt lost, unsure what to do.

I didn’t really have a plan B at this point. People who were born in the right place needn’t worry – it wasn’t like the isles were about to become unanchored and float away. But for me they might as well have. Worryingly, the establishment responded by washing their hands of the issue. If there was a plan to safeguard people who actively chose Britain and didn’t just default into it, they didn’t let on. After the vicious Brexit debate I didn’t have it in me to fight another fight, so I left.

I was not the only one worried. If one was to search for “reasons for Brexit”, Google will place your location as Madrid. I’ve heard Spaniards now reporting that they find better jobs in their home economy than in the UK. Spain, you know, the country where anarchists rioted on the streets just a few years back. Yet for many their home economy isn’t their home and they miss their real home dearly. True for most of those despicable EU migrants, people like me.

And do I miss Britain. The fields, creeks, and tiny backstreets leading to quaint pubs. Coffee shops hiding in plain view along the high street. People who can break into a conversation about the weather, AI, favourite pets or self-driving cars. A genuine respect for those who go forth and explore the world. A hearty welcome when you come home.

The Britain I moved to, where people don’t care who you are, is slowly dying

I’m sort of waiting for someone to call and say “It’ll be alright, you can come home now.” But I know that won’t happen. The Britain I moved to, where people don’t care who you are, is slowly dying. I can’t bear to watch. So for the moment I remain a citizen of nowhere, slightly cross that no one made the tough decisions this country needed.

But maybe it will all be over by Christmas. Finally there is a collective groan as business suffer a departing workforce. There might not be any reliable lettuce supply until we’re allowed back. And whereas I cannot speak for everyone, I don’t really mind this bout of madness. Because despite everything, no place but Britain has ever felt quite like home.

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Comments (6)

  • This is wonderfully written.
    I am one of the pesky EU expats in the UK as well (with the term ‘expats’ chosen deliberately!) and after a rollercoaster year of not knowing what to do, I decided to stay. For now.
    In the lovely international and fairly tolerant Remain bubble of Cambridge, you can’t feel the effects as immediately as in other areas of the UK. Yet, things have changed completely – a feeling which some of my British friends can’t understand. I suppose you only really understand when you’re in the situation.
    My home economy indeed isn’t my home – I spent most of my adult life living and working abroad, and mostly in the UK. And I would miss Britain terribly if I left.
    You have put all that in very apt words, so thank you.

  • Franklin Percival

    The Czech girl at Home Bargains who used to chat merrily about life in Brno or wherever now speaks only guardedly of Shrewsbury as if born here. My social worker friend Aleksandr, with whom I used to have long chats in my local, I have not seen since the turn of the year. He has, I imagine, returned to Romania. We have become a shrivelled, mean husk of a country compared with the 1960s Britain in which I lived as a teenager.

    I shall continue to kick against the pricks until dementia or death prevent this.

  • Lyndsay St Val

    The Britain you describe isn’t dying, but the baby boomers who voted to leave the EU are. I am more optimistic about the future of Britain and that someday our young people will find their way back to the EU.

  • Derek Brundish

    As a 77 year old WASP Englishman I no longer recognise my own country. Pandora’s box has unleashed a tide of unspeakable brutality that I never knew was there. Let’s not kid ourselves , it was always there otherwise we would never have had an Empire built on cruelty and oppression and robbery. I happened to live through an enlightened age when after the war people briefly cared for each other in a truly ‘social’ way but that is now overturned by the forces of greed, intolerance and a lack of ordinary compassion. Our only hope is to face down the evil but the Establishment have harnessed the forces of ignorance. We are not alone viz.Trump, Le Pen, Wilders …

  • To put it in a nutshell, the majority who were left behind (some in poverty, zero hour contract Ect) told the minority who did not give a stuff——to get stuffed. Try walking around some of the places that voted out (especially in the North) and speak to them—– you will be shocked at the stories of those who were left behind and ignored.

  • Valerie Wood-Gaiger MBE

    I am and WAS always proud to be a British born European.
    I don’t feel at home in a country where people can openly make racists remarks; where lies are reported as facts; Where Ministers openly tell lies in Parliament.
    This is not the Britain I was born in!
    I don’t remember the last world war – I was born in 1941 – but I have lived through a wonderful unprecedentedly long period of Peace & prosperity – of a magnitude that my parents & grandparents could never have imagined and we owe so much of that prosperity because we have been at peace with our neighbours.
    I want to stay friends & be welcome when I visit mainland Europe. People took the fact that Britain WAS a tolerant country – the sort of country that Johan described – for granted.
    They listened to the lies and not the facts.
    We are better off in every way possible by remaining within EU
    It’s NOT too late – Nothing has been agreed until everything has been agreed.
    Please contact your MP before the 16th Jan debate & tell them if you want to remain in EU.
    Tell them if you voted leave but have now changed your mind.
    This is still democracy – we have the right to tell our leaders what we want.

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