Article @ Bella Caledonia, published 28 June 2016
Last Friday I woke up before the alarm went off and picked up the phone to check the time. Even before having it for certain that it was far too early to get out of bed a news-alert caught my attention. Going back to sleep was unthinkable after that. Seventeen million people in the country I wake up in every day had said no to the European Union. And if on the one hand I had expected it all along, the shock of these news was still big enough to get me running around the house, waking up my equally unwanted EU migrant brother, bellowing: “Brexit! Brexit! Brexit won!” His bewildered response best not printed.
Since that unfortunate day I’ve been getting messages from English friends that all follow similar lines: apologies, long rants, and the perennial question of what I plan to do next. I am Portuguese you see, tens years a Londoner. The power of my labour and the weight of it in taxes never paid anywhere else. My entire adult life lived here. My plan is to ask for British citizenship – if I muster to collect the £1500 for the costs such a plan entails – but, in all honesty, that is not the most important at this stage.
Less than a week since the results were announced and already there’s been a spike of 57 per cent in hate crimes around the country. Social media was filled with gruesome stories of drunken men shouting racist insults, cards with the words “no more Polish vermin” being dropped through Cambridge postboxes and British Asians being told that they would “finally have to go.”
This is the real result of this referendum. Irrespective of individual opinions on the EU’s good and bad attributes, the Brexiters referendum was moved by isolationism, and its cousins xenophobia and racism. Given the events that led to the referendum and the context under which it was conducted, this could have never been a victory for the Eurosceptic left, or even for those who, in my view correctly, object to the undemocratic structure of the European Commission or the mafioso-style pressures exercised by the EU on weaker economies in Africa and the Caribbean under the Economic Partnership Agreements. This was not a referendum for a more democratic United Kingdom, for more sovereignty for those who have the weakest voice in the national political landscape. This was not a referendum favouring those who have suffered the most from pan-European austerity measures. The neoliberal Gordian knot that is the finance-sycophant European Union is still intact.
The valid concerns of the British working class about the lack of jobs, the housing crisis, the exponential impoverishment of working families and the cuts to pensions, were explored in this referendum and used as ammunition for the cause of the populist extreme right. Instead of using the opportunity for a debate on some of Britain’s largest national problems, the British political class let bigotry dominate the referendum rhetoric and the results were a reflection of that.
I’m afraid. It’s true, I am. I fear what lies ahead and I fear what’s already here. Both Labour and the Conservatives were divided during the election campaign and are now stuck in civil wars with no end in sight. Prime Minister David Cameron is set to step down, washing his hands off the most complex political process in this country’s history since, perhaps the Baron Wars that led to the signing of the Magna Carta. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn now has to spend his energies on fighting attempts to depose him, Scotland will fight for its right to a new independence referendum and God knows what the future reserves for the rest of “Little Britain”.
But I’m also afraid on the streets, something I have never felt in this decade of UK residency, even in the metropolis that is London. But I fear them today as I watch the news. I fear them when two Polish migrants, father and son, are beaten and left unconscious on the pavement. The work of an “Englishman” they said. I fear them when an American is harassed by a group of teenagers on a Manchester tram, when, not a day had passed since the referendum took place, a friend, a petite woman of colour, British born and bred, is screamed at by a man inches away from her face. I am certainly afraid when my brother sets on his way home alone through the streets of London, in the early hours after a night out.
For now the official result of the referendum does not interest me. Inside or outside the EU Britain continues to be my second home, increased border controls that won’t make a difference. But my second home is not at peace. In fact, it is under state of emergency. And all of us who live here could get injured in the cross fire of the botched revolution they call Brexit.