This morning I woke up at 7am to see a blurry blue and yellow semi circle telling me that Britain had voted to leave the European Union.
I couldn’t quite believe it. The 3.9% difference was minuscule enough that I thought rubbing my eyes a few times would reveal something different. Alas, moments after I read the headlines, the final vote counts were in and that was that. We are leaving, and I’m royally pissed off about it.
Now my vote should come as no surprise to just about anyone who knows me, but if you don’t, here’s a little bit of background for you. I’m a 23 year-old British and Irish citizen, living in Madrid. I spent the first 10 years of my life in south London, attending a school that viewed its cultural diversity as something to be celebrated, and had friends whose families had immigrated from all over the world. At the age of 10 I moved to the Isle of Wight, a small county in the south of England whose population is 94.8% white-British. I’ll never forget when one one of my new classmates told me I’d get shot in London. Of course, we all say stupid things at 10 years old, but this was the first time I remember noticing a difference in tone.
Fast forward 7 years, and the traveller in me was born. Since 2011, I have travelled to 14 of the 28 EU member states, not including the UK and Ireland. In 2014 I moved myself over to Spain in order to teach English and learn Spanish. I have reaped the social benefits of the EU, and the entire time I didn’t even give it a second thought. It was only after I’d made a bunch of American and Australian friends that I really started to feel smug about being in the EU – I was able to hop on a discounted flight, relocate to another country, get a job, see a Doctor, and open a bank account sin problemas. The freedom and opportunities were endless. Not to mention that almost every single time I crossed a boarder I felt privileged and rich – with pounds in my pockets, part of the fun of going abroad was enjoying just how cheap everything felt.
Now, many on the Leave side voted to do so in order to take away those very benefits that I have enjoyed. However, although this could disrupt the lives of many friend’s of mine, this is not what has upset me personally the most. As an Irish passport holder, I will continue to reap the majority of these benefits (thanks Mum and Dad). Lucky me.
No, the reason I am gutted is not the freedom of travel or the value of the pound. Today I am angry that Xenophobia has triumphed on a foundation of ignorance and lies, and that more was not done to educate those vulnerable voters on the truths of immigration. In this age of harsh austerity to our public services, the Campaign bus that insinuated that if we were to leave the EU we could invest £350 million into our NHS, was a terrifying example of the weaknesses the Leave campaigners were willing to abuse in order to get their way. “NHS tourism” – the idea that people migrate to the UK just to sponge of our free healthcare – is to blame for the queues in the emergency rooms, and all would magically disappear if we are to leave the EU. Wrong. Nigel Farage has already admitted that the £350 million promise was a mistake, and we all know Boris and Gove aren’t to be trusted with in injecting any money saved from membership fees into our public services.
Now, for the – dare I say it – educated amongst us, we all knew those promises were poison. The problem was that the vast majority of the UK did not. In fact, according to a poll issued by Ipsos MORI, most British citizens were close to clueless about the EU, its laws, and immigration levels. In a developed country with the (now) 6th largest economy, this should never have been the case. It is terrifying that the public were able to vote on something they were so ill-informed about. It is terrifying that the British education system has failed us on this. I used to think there was too much emphasis on the World Wars in school, now I wish there was more. How many of us were ever remember a class dedicated to teaching us the history and inner workings of the EU?
Another thing that’s got my knickers in a twist is that this never needed to happen. I don’t think when David Cameron put the referendum in his manifesto he could have ever predicted this would happen, and for that very reason I support his resignation. This was a political move by Cameron to gain a few measly supporters back from UKIP; there was no overwhelming demand from the general population, and yet in less than a year we’ve made the greatest decision of a generation. For this, he should be ashamed. I feel a bit sick when I see Donald Trump supports our decision, and that Nigel Farage is hailing it as our Independence Day. But before negotiations start we cannot predict just how bad this will all be. Perhaps the pound will crash even further and businesses will be fleeing in hoards. Or perhaps we’ll figure it out, and we’ll make some deals with the commonwealth to keep us afloat. Who knows (no one)…
I’m not scared just yet of a financial disaster. What I’m scared of is: what will happen to our European immigrants working in the UK? How will they now be treated, given 52% of the country in favour of not accepting them anymore? And who on earth is going to stand up and protect our rights once the EU laws are gone? Our future has been decided by a generation that will barely live to see it through. 75% of young people who voted, voted to remain. Now we must stay on our guard and fight for the rights the EU has provided us.
In the meantime, we cannot allow Xenophobia prevail. Brandishing all Leave voters as bigoted racists will not do our cause any more favours than vegetarians calling meat-eaters bloodsucking murderers (and that’s coming from a vegetarian). Education is key. We must remember that many who voted, did not know what they were voting for. It easy to call them out as idiots (amongst other foul names), but in the end most will have voted in a genuine hope for a better future, and for some a promise of less strain on our public services was enough to swing them. Yes, the quoted reasons for said strain may have bigoted undertones, but there is a unifying frustration between us: jobs are being lost, and the NHS is going bust. We are a dissatisfied generation, and Westminster is failing us.
So, although when I woke up this morning I regretted my decision to move home to earn the pound, I am happy to be going home to work for a charity that is working to eradicate the disintegration that I believe has fuelled this referendum. The Leave campaign’s lies have already started to reveal themselves to the general public, and it is in our hands to educate our peers and make the best out of a [possibly] irreversible situation. Speak to your peers, share information, and set a good example. Don’t shove it down their throats.
Note: I’m aware immigration was not the only reason the public voted out, but it is the one I feel most concern for, hence the post.