And more specifically – and more relevant to me, in particular – what it means to all those British people living in other parts of the EU because we’re EU citizens and we’re allowed to live and work in whichever EU country we like.
I didn’t write anything about it in the weeks leading up to the referendum because, to be honest, my friends were filling my FaceBook feed with posts, memes and silly pictures arguing one side or the other, and I was getting tired of it. I came down firmly in the ‘Remain’ camp, and I think the same was true of most of my expat friends. I don’t have any figures, but I only know of a few people in my circle of friends who were planning to vote ‘Leave’.
The obvious question to ask is why, and the obvious answer is that we were happy with the status quo that gave us the freedom to live in another country without having to jump through a ton of hoops. Being able to travel freely, overland in Europe is nice too. (I remember my surprise when we crossed the border from France into Spain on our drive down back in 2009, and there was nothing to mark the border – no border control, not even a sign welcoming us to Spain. We only knew we were in Spain when the signs were suddenly in Spanish!)
But there’s more to it than that. Britain is a very small country, and being on the inside gives you a limited view of the outside world, almost like looking through a filter. Leaving the island where I grew up and coming to live in mainland Europe made me realise I’m not just British; I’m also European. While I had always been interested in European politics, I had only been interested in how decisions made in Brussels, or how the actions of other European countries, affected Britain. As I started to feel more European as well as British, my perspective on European politics changed, and I became more aware of the effects on Europe as a whole. If I had been living in Britain, I might have looked on the Greek financial crisis that came to a head a few years ago as vaguely interesting. As a European, I wanted to know how the rest of Europe would be affected, how other countries were involved, and what was likely to happen in other EU members that were experiencing financial difficulties of their own.
Being an island people makes you very insular, and the physical boundary of water gives a feeling of separation from your neighbours. When you are part of the same land mass as your neighbours, you become more aware of how the actions of one affects another, and that co-operation is needed to ensure stability.
I chose to vote ‘Remain’ because I’ve come to feel as much European as British.
Right now, I feel quite sad for the British people I’ve ‘left behind’ in Britain because their world view is so small. I feel sad for them because they (or at least the small minority that secured the result) have made a decision based on lies and propaganda (some claims the ‘Leave’ camp made in the run up to the referendum were retracted within hours of the result). I worry that they’ve chosen something without even knowing what they would be getting.
David Cameron resigned this morning as leader of the Conservative party, which was to be expected since he’d supported the ‘Remain’ position. Most people assume Boris Johnson will become the new Prime Minister when the vote is made later this year, and I can’t decide whether that’s really a good or a bad thing. There’s a part of me that actually likes Boris. His image (which I’m totally willing to accept may be a very carefully crafted image) is less polished than many politicians. He messes up (repeatedly), usually apologises for messing up, changes his mind, and – as was made very evident during his appearances on Have I Got News For You? – can handle being the butt of a joke. He doesn’t mind people laughing at him, and is even willing to look like a fool purely for the sake of a laugh.
But, as this article in The Guardian from a couple of days before the referendum points out, he’s a very difficult man to pin down, and it isn’t altogether clear what his policies actually are. So, the British people don’t really know what they’re getting. And if it turns out that Boris is all front and very little substance, there are plenty of people who will happily push their policies front and centre. People like Michael Gove, whose ideas paint a grim picture of a Britain reminiscent of that portrayed in the 2006 film, Children of Men.
Whoever takes over leadership of the party, it’s likely the Conservative party will move further to the right, which traditionally means cuts in public services, so those who are already suffering are likely to suffer more, and it’s clear (since much of their campaign was based around stirring up fear of immigrants) that the ‘Leavers’ will want to increase border controls and allow less people into the country. (Children of Men again.)
But what does all this mean for me, and the other British citizens currently living legally in other EU countries? The truth is, we have absolutely no idea. The Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, threatened before the referendum that British people living in Spain would be deported in the event of a Britain leaving the EU, but most people considered that to be more fear-mongering (and he has since stated that British expats will be welcome in Spain at least while the details of Britain’s exit are worked out). The EU didn’t want Britain to leave any more than the majority of British politicians did. It’s way too much upheaval and disruption, which causes uncertainty in the markets (and share prices did fall worldwide this morning when the result was announced, as well as the pound taking a significant nose-dive).
Britain still has to negotiate its exit from the EU, which is a protracted process that’s likely to take 2 years, and we’re still not certain who will be doing the negotiating. It’s far too early to predict how it will affect us.
One piece of good news, which was brought to my attention by a post on FaceBook this morning, is that the US has just lost its strongest ally in the EU. The EU is a strong player in world affairs, and having the ear of a well-placed EU member state put the US in a position to influence EU policy to some degree. Since I’d rather not have the US interfering in our European business, Britain’s decision to leave can only be a good thing in that respect.
On a more trivial level, I have 2 years to find an alternative way to get international parcels into Spain, while bypassing the bureaucracy of Spanish customs, because I won’t be able to have them sent via a British mail box for much longer!