Watching from the sidelines as Britain implodes after Brexit
by Claudette Parry
As a British expat living in Paris, watching the aftermath of the monumental decision that has just taken place in the UK, I feel compelled to write my thoughts here on Mama Loves Paris.
As the reports hit the news on Friday morning I was ironically en route to London for a weekend with family and friends. Once I was seated comfortably on the train, slowly taking in the enormity of what had transpired, the resignation announcement by David Cameron, The UK’s Prime Minster pinged through on my phone.
By the time I arrived in London, the backlash and fall out from the result was in full swing and the general mood in my place of my birth was one of shock and disbelief!
A country where political apathy, disenchantment and lack of connectivity has dogged politics in the past, the people had now found their voice and declared unequivocally their point of view in record numbers – 33 million!! A higher number than the turnout in the 2015 general election.
The vote at 52% versus 48% was so tight it almost felt too close to call, but the ‘leaves’ had it and consequently the course of British political history has been changed for ever.
It is overwhelming in some ways to digest the result, the reaction and the aftermath. To absorb the seismic impact of the decision and take in the breadth of unrest amongst my fellow Brits, in London and in Paris – as well as the rest of the world.
Reflecting on what has happened whilst living here in Paris as an expat, I have come to realize that all I have ever known has been the European Way! The collaborative nature of a United States of Europe despite some of its foibles has been the reality of my existence since my youth. I remember the 1975 referendum vote to remain in the EU, (known as the EEC at the time) and the debate over sterling versus euro plus (and although not directly related), the exciting moment the channel tunnel was built – the feeling of the UK being intrinsically, politically and socially linked/committed to countries beyond its borders. A somewhat shared goal and vision with mutual benefits for business, for people and the economy.
When we decided to come to Paris four years ago it was so easy – no applications for visas, no long-winded challenges and endless bureaucracy to move from the UK to France – from that perspective it was a seemless transition. Friends and family who had adopted to reside in other European states found the same, whatever their raison d’être!
In all honesty it hadn’t really struck me or been on my mind that this fluidity and/or this 40 year-long relationship with our European partners, would be called into question or indeed challenged with such a weight that would lead to the consequences that Britain now faces
When I woke Friday morning, I hadn’t anticipated that less that 36 hours later, there would be a UK government leadership battle, a coup in the opposition party planning to topple the leadership (42 front bench resignations at time of writing), a desperate petition to try and reverse the referendum outcome and an outpouring of regret from people, who felt they had made a terrible mistake – dubbed Regrexit, after believing strong, and now widely regarded to be uncorroborated and misleading statements, about what a vote for leave would actually mean!
In addition to this – the understandable levels of disappointment from the ‘remain’ voters has unleashed a stream of intense attacks on the ‘leavers’ that has uncovered even further, the deep-rooted divide along emotionally charged political and socially sensitive issues, such as race and class, with immigration being a huge if not decisive factor
Added to all of this is the dawning reality that the Kingdom is clearly no longer United. Scotland want to stay in the EU as does Northern Ireland. There is talk of independence and my country is split on fundamental issues.
As a Brit abroad with a liberal outlook it is harrowing to witness this disintegration.
As a Brit mum, before even thinking about myself or my children and their future – I look at Britain from across the pond in total disbelief that we have found ourselves in this position.
I do not doubt that Britain will pull back from the brink of this, but it raises many questions for me about the attitudes of some people in my country and the root and cause.
I know that there were many issues upon which people decided to vote leave. Not all of them were even Eurocentric! Leavers talked of a dissatisfaction with Brussels and the decisions made there by non elected officials, that were affecting Britain. The growing frustrations with the amount of money Britain paid into the EU, the pressure on services and jobs and housing, supposedly as a direct result of the free movement of labour. The forced trading rules negating potential wider global deals, the sovereignty of Britain, democracy!
But people also turned out in their droves to use their vote in protest against the government, deemed elitist and out of touch with the realities of everyday people in Britain. From them, it was a message to the establishment.
But without question, the most controversial issue was immigration.
The campaign for the leavers, led by right-wing executives in the UK, used this single issue to ultimately tip the balance in favour of a British Exit; and the revelation of this in my opinion, raises some uncomfortable questions and perceptions about the UK. As a woman of Jamaican immigrant parents, in an inter racial marriage with mixed raced children born in London and now living in Paris, this gives me great cause for concern.
Having always believed that the UK was a tolerant society, accepting of multiculturalism and celebrating its diversity; I had hoped that Britain had reached a point of accepting the contribution of immigrants from the previous commonwealth and Europe.
However, the tipping point of the referendum has sadly painted a very different picture – whether steeped in reality or not and that is disappointing.
Add to this the reaction from Le Pen here in Paris wanting to follow suit by holding a referendum too, with a calling for Frexit, rooted in an extreme right-wing rhetoric; it makes more of this propaganda! Leading to further concern for natives and expats here in France.
The question of tolerance is now high on the agenda, as people of differing cultures living in the UK ask themselves whether Britain is a country where they should reside and whether they are indeed welcome, and that is an extremely sad immediate (and I hope short term) outcome of these results.
Young people are now up in arms with regards to how the shape of their future may change. (40%of 18-24 year olds voted).
The elderly in the UK are under attack for their ‘leave’ votes, arguably not thinking more broadly about the future implications for British youth.
Expats here are panicked over the implications for them post Brexit, with considerations extending towards applying for French citizenship, and their position in terms of taxes and pensions.
It is pandemonium and that is just a snippet of the full picture.
Watching all of this unfold is worsened by the absence of leadership in the UK with both major parties in a state of flux without any obvious clear plan or vision.
Will Britain retain the benefits of the single market? Will the freedom of movement of people throughout Europe continue? These are the big questions for Britain.
For us expats – we have to remember that nothing significant will change in our circumstances right now. Even when the Article 50 button has been pushed, signalling the beginning of Britain’s exit from the EU, from that moment it is estimated the process will take at least two years.
This is an era of unchartered waters for Britain. I sincerely believe that Britain will eventually steer its way through but not without being forever shaken economically, socially and politically by this rude awakening.
A democratic process has taken place and the decision, I believe will be upheld.
The Britain my kids, my husband and I were born in will clearly never be the same but what will it become? What will be the consequences? Who will be the new Prime Minister? What will be the plan, now this momentous decision has been made? Will the Kingdom stay united? Will people be able to live along side each other, harmoniously post Brexit? What will be the consequences for expats abroad and those in the UK over time? What of the economy?
Right now, no one has the answers. Only time will tell.
But I do, despite everything have hope.
Written by Claudette Parry, Founder of MLP, Mother of twin boys, living in Paris.
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