Opinion by David Skelcey
Friday, June 24, 2016
I woke up in my caravan at Glastonbury Music Festival, headed to the toilet and while doing my business read the news I was dreading. The Leave campaign had won the Brexit referendum by 51% to 49%. After getting dressed and kissing my sleeping partner and kids goodbye I headed off to work in the beautiful Somerset fields. At our office my colleagues were standing around in stunned silence, staring at their phones and shaking their heads in disbelief. No-one could believe it.
Still, there was work to be done. Stages to finish, sound systems to tweak, lights to be focused – all to get ready for another year of high-profile artists from around the world to perform at the biggest and most international festival of contemporary arts on the globe.
My youngest son was little more than a year old at the time. Over the next year as he began to talk, one of his earliest words was ‘Brexit’. He confused it with ‘breakfast’ – most likely due to hearing it on the radio all the time, as well as the regular conversations his Italian mother and I were having about it. ‘Want Brexit!’ ‘More Brexit!’ ‘Where’s Brexit?’ Oh how we laughed, while we searched for details on how my partner was going to get ‘settled status’ even after living in the UK for 25 years, owning a property, paying UK tax and having British born children.
We left the UK for a 4 month trip to SE Asia while the news was reporting government figures showing a 29% increase in hate crime since the referendum. British social media was in meltdown with long standing friendships falling apart and families refusing to talk to each other over their opposing stances on Brexit. Things started to look bleak, and while sitting on Ao Yon beach in Phuket, we decided to make a permanent exit from the UK.
We arrived back in Phuket to start a new life, leaving behind our friends and family in the UK and Europe. Having lived in London for nearly 30 years, a huge amount of our friends are European. Many have now left the UK for reasons such as job security, difficulty obtaining settled status, or just through fear of the rise in hostility that the UK now offers to non-Brits.
On the flip side, we have many British friends who have made their lives in Europe and are now scrambling, amidst huge uncertainty, to secure their chosen life paths in Germany, Austria, Spain, France, Poland, Bulgaria, Portugal, Italy, Denmark, Czech Republic and more. It’s a total mess – and that’s just friends that we know.
Going back to the music industry – one of Great Britain’s finest assets – we now have titans of the business tearing their hair out at the problems being faced in dealing with international artists performing in the UK. In fact, even before any Brexit legislation has been implemented. The ‘hostile environment’ forged by former Home Secretary turned PM Theresa May led Peter Gabriel, co-founder of the WOMAD festival of world music to say in 2018.
“Musicians travel for a living, and almost everywhere I have travelled I have been met with kindness and generosity. Do we really want a white-breaded Brexited flatland? A country that is losing the will to welcome the world?”
Non-Brits may well be wondering how a slight majority of the UK electorate came to the conclusion that we would be better off outside the biggest and most successful trading bloc in history. And it’s a very good question.
The simple answer is that the UK population has been drip fed anti-EU propaganda for the best part of thirty years. Starting back in the 80s with nefarious stories about rules on the shape of bananas to more recent hysteria about limiting the power of vacuum cleaners and kettles, the British public have succumbed to a relentless portrayal of ‘foreign interference’ and ‘Brussels meddling’ which has manifested a narrative that the UK no longer has any power and has lost its ‘sovereignty’. It only took a few extra lies on the side of a bus to tip the vote.
That the UK has been instrumental in drawing up vast swathes of EU legislation seems lost on many Leave voters, along with the fact that all EU member states abide by the same laws. Perhaps it is island mentality and paranoia that has convinced many Brits that the EU exists just to punish the UK, rather than to provide an even playing field for trade by way of fair and equal product standards, common safety protocols, human rights, worker’s rights, environmental legislation and 2-way freedom of movement.
And who was behind this constant anti-EU rhetoric you might wonder? Could it possibly be our very own journalist-turned-politician and now Prime Minister Johnson? Conclusively YES – as former colleague Martin Fletcher adamantly points out in this pre-referendum quote…
“For 25 years our press has fed the British public a diet of distorted, mendacious and relentlessly hostile stories about the EU – and the journalist who set the tone was Boris Johnson.”
Add to this some lashings of good old xenophobia and the stage is all set. And no – not all leavers are racists – just a third of them according to a 2017 edition of the generally conservative London Evening Standard.
February 1, 2020
Union flags have been waved and the Kingdom is once again sovereign. Free sausages and chips have been devoured in pubs up and down the country and Brexit has been done, as promised by PM Johnson before his victorious election in December. Huzzah! But, of course, nothing changes for anybody yet.
Nothing has been ‘done’ at all – this is just the start. The UK will remain aligned to EU rules until the end of the year, but without any political representation in Brussels or Strasbourg. Workers in the manufacturing heartlands of the north will be hoping they did the right thing by backing Boris as they watch the upcoming negotiations unfold while their European bosses weigh up their options.
All I can hope for is an end to the mud-slinging and that the country can start moving forwards again, regardless of who is in charge. I for one will be spending the weekend reaching out to some friends who I fell out with over these last awful 3 and a half years.
Life is short and the world is too small to allow the bitterness of politics to divide us.
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