Sunday, 16 October 2016

Some quick thoughts on Brexit

I just got back last night from my yearly trip to Europe, to see friends in London and family in Turin. I'd been looking forward to it for quite a while - not as long as last year, when I booked the September/October trip in about May or so, but long enough - though the referendum result and the subsequent uncertainty over what kind of place Britain will be after it leaves the EU had made me a little apprehensive.

Free movement of EU citizens allowed me to move to Britain not once but twice, after college and after journalism school, so I'm naturally biased in favor of the UK staying in the EU. I also felt that the options for the country after leaving were both dishonest and disappointing - taking on a model like those of Norway or Switzerland would have meant even less sovereignty, but the hard Brexit that appears to be on the cards seems like a license for the Tory government to completely roll back any progressive initiatives. In other words, if the working classes were furious at Europe for not giving them any opportunities, wait until they see what Theresa May and her government have in store for them.

But London's the epicenter of open, cosmopolitan and multicultural Britain, so what could I expect there? On the street, though I felt a little self-conscious (especially on the night that I went out to dinner in the West End with my cousin and his wife, speaking Italian the whole time), I didn't actually experience any hassle. In fact, I used to get hassled more often for being an American when I lived there...

That said, a lot of people I talked to who aren't EU citizens were concerned about the direction that things are taking. A Mexican friend whose wife is Spanish seems safe for the time being, thanks to his job, but an American colleague said he and his wife didn't want their new baby growing up in that atmosphere. And I don't blame them - movements eat themselves, and when you start by compelling firms to list why they've hired foreign workers, eventually things are going to get unpleasant for all migrants, not just the poor ones that are the undeserving focus of all this rage by certain parts of the population.

All of which confirms for me that I made the right decision leaving Britain three years ago. I like being in London, and traveling in the rest of the UK, but even the supposed Remain voters were pretty xenophobic and jingoistic back then, to the point that if I insisted back in 2002 that my paying taxes made me British, the following decade or so disabused me of any notion that it was a welcoming society.

I am a little sad that the option of moving to Britain whenever I feel like it is going to disappear. One friend insists that I'm the type of migrant that post-Brexit Britain will want, but I think he's being naive - even if Britain rolls out the red carpet for middle-class professionals coming from rich countries come 2019, I'll still be benefiting from the xenophobia that blocks anyone with a Polish or Romanian name from doing the jobs that no Briton wants, and that doesn't sit well with me.

Like I've been telling everyone since last year, I miss being in Britain, but I don't miss living there. The events of the last couple of months have shown me I'm well shot of the place - from the divisive, ugly and ultimately violent (RIP Jo Cox) Leave campaign to the increase in xenophobic hate crime and the complete lack of understanding (or interest) on the part of Leave campaigners of how such a divorce would work in practicality or how it would affect the people whose voices they claim to be upholding. I just feel bad for my friends who voted to stay in the EU, but now have to stay in Britain - it's going to be a rough few years ahead.