On the day of the Brexit result, I experienced the feelings of dread and disappointment. Various jokes aside, it was a day that absolutely stunned Germany and pushed me into regions of embarrassment and disgust at my country which I’ve never experienced before.
The people I spoke to here in Germany were simply dumbfounded that we would choose to leave the EU. “Warum?” I was asked so many times. They were rattled by the ground our right wing politics had gained. Like one of those toy cars that pull right back and then let go, the UK had just taken what much of Europe viewed as a backward decision and was about to be catapulted into a political crisis like no other.
German media had covered the run up to the EU referendum in the UK avidly, commenting that the debate was shaped by fear. In one video clip, someone said that the decision would show what kind of society we wanted to be. At the moment I’m surrounded by Germans and, looking in from the outside, I’ll tell you what we see.
It just seems like the UK always wants to be bigger, better, the best. “You drive on the left, don’t have the Euro, measure everything differently”. We seem ignorant, we’ve tossed a mammoth decision to our ill informed and disillusioned electorate and we have a low young voter turnout like no other. I read one article about the statistics for 18-24 year old voting and it just dripped with disgust at how few people in this age group had voted. The poor journalist genuinely seemed to think that all 18-24 year olds had been at Glastonbury that day, but what I’m getting at is that it’s an unsolved issue and I think Germany would like to think it would have sorted that out already, once and for all.
I try to think about what has caused so many people to vote Leave and my only answer is fear. Is there a fear of change? Of the unknown? Of things that feel foreign to us? Do we genuinely fear our identity is lost and that we have no power? What a sad thing to believe.
Living in Berlin reminds you every day of the history that this country has endured. I go for a bike ride and I pass markers that remember the lives of people who tried to flee the DDR. A walk through the city and you will see Stolpelsteine, marking the former Jewish inhabitants of a building, whose lives were so brutally ended. This city has consciously chosen to face its past in every way possible. In a National Geographic article I read, the former president of the German parliament Wolfgang Thierse said, “Nowhere on Earth can the examples of overweening political ambition, tyranny, repression, division and human failure be quite so obvious than in Berlin.” I find that quote so powerful.
There is something so incredible about the unity and opportunities that the European Union has provided. What has made me so ashamed about being British during this referendum is the apparent inability of so many Britons to appreciate the value of something which doesn’t sit in their pocket. Very many Germans may also wish to complain about the EU. Germany has, after all, taken in over 1 million refugees which has caused obvious strains. But as a country which has experienced immense suffering and loss, crises of identity and still doesn’t really acknowledge its success, people are just so grateful! They appreciate what the EU can offer them and understand that for all the money goes in, all manner of things, good and bad come out. Nothing is perfect, so why does the UK seem after more, they question.
So many people have consoled me on the referendum result, telling me how upset I must be, especially me, I’m living in Germany, I’m going to study languages. I wonder if it occurs to anyone that my vote was never about what I wanted, but what I hoped I could give to a future generation, the incredible experience of Europe that my friends and I have had.
In case anyone was in any doubt, the picture Brexit paints of our society, is a stupid, selfish, not very good at all one.