The 'B' Word

When I set out to write this blog, I never intended to write about political woes and doom and gloom! But as William Wordsworth said "Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart" and there is a lot weighing on my heart right now that I feel the need to get out. I owe it to myself, my daughter and, above all, to my Dad, who, if he could express himself, would be rocked by the recent, shocking political mess that is the result of the big 'B' word on everyone's lips. So I'm just going to leave some thoughts right here on Brexit and then I'll get back on the road to finding something more upbeat to write about, god knows we need it!

I'm not going to pretend that I'm some kind of political or economic expert, to be fair I find a lot of politics plain dull and I spent all of The Big Short asking my husband endless questions about subprime mortgages and the FTSE. I'm still none the wiser! And whereas I know that Brexit could create no end of frightening global economic problems, there are two societal issues about Brexit that disturb me the most; the restriction of free movement and the boiling over of an ugly underbelly of racism and xenophobia. Yes, I don't currently live in the UK so why am I jumping on the bandwagon? Well the UK was a place I could see my family and I returning to sometime in the future. Plus, our daughter has British heritage and I want her to have the same opportunities I did. So the bandwagon is pretty inviting even if its mere presence is unnerving.

Firstly, freedom of movement. Despite being born in the UK, I was brought up in Ireland. I went back to live in London for 7 years after graduating from college and my family currently lives in the London suburbs. We've always felt at home in London, it being my mum's home town and having spent a lot of time there as children. My dad first fell in love with the city at the age of 10 when his family moved from rural Ballina in Ireland. It's where he made his career, met my mum and started his family, opportunities he wouldn't necessarily have had had the borders been more 'controlled'. Yes this was before the EU came into force, when the Irish and British could freely move over each others borders and settle down in each other's countries. But with Brexit there is absolutely no guarantee that Britain's response to immigration is to revert back to the way it once was before entering the EU. If anything, due to the pressure of the far right, there's a greater risk that the walls will be raised higher in an effort to prove they in fact can control their borders. This not only means fewer career opportunities, but also fewer opportunities for relationships and cultural development, not only for Europeans wishing to go to the UK, but also for British people who are in search of the same opportunities in Europe. As one writer in the FT put it: "...the younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied."

Beyond opportunities for life improvement, for many immigration comes down to sheer survival. Well-meaning people, like my dad, but much worse off, many with young families, are fleeing war and horrific persecution. They are people that need help and shelter in countries like the UK. This vote tells those people, who are literally waiting on the borders, that Britain doesn't want them or want to help them. Even if the borders are miraculously controlled to let people who really need the help in, where are the plans to measure who should be granted residency and who doesn't fit the bill? Are they just going to decide based on personality? Or maybe qualifications? 'Oh here's a nice chap, seems a nice fellow, let's let him in!' or, on the other hand, 'Oh here's a guy who looks a bit grubby, no professional qualifications to boot. Yes his wife was raped and murdered by terrorists and he's determined to raise his three young children alone, but probably best not to let him in as he might be a drain on our system!' No matter how you look at it, more controls means even more needy, good-hearted, well-meaning people and their families being left to suffer. The reality doesn't bear thinking about.

Secondly, racism and xenophobia. These are extremely dangerous sentiments that, prior to this referendum, only seemed to raise their heads in isolated incidents. But now the tensions seem to be bursting at the seams. That is not to say that everyone who voted to leave the EU is an out and out racist or xenophobe. Many who voted, truly believe they are doing their best for their country and I respect that. But this was an extremely dangerous referendum because, regardless of voters intentions, its outcome has allowed the far right, who are inherently intolerant, to act on their hatred. What's worse, it's sent the message that it's OK to act way.

One of the places I called home in London was an area called Canada Water (or 'Cork' Waters to the Irish people I knew there!) in the south east of the city. An up and coming area in the docklands that was also was home to Londoners who had been there for generations. The only time I ever felt threatened there was when the local football team, Millwall, where playing in the area. Bars seemed to be full of white, angry men chanting sometimes racist, sometimes threatening slurs. Those were the times my Irish friends and I for once thought it best not to pop for a pint for fear of anyone hearing our accents! This occurrence was pretty irregular and it only happened in a small pocket of society. What Brexit has done is it's brought this type of character into the masses, it's spread that filthy attitude like wildfire and it's made it justified to treat non-British citizens with disrespect, hatred and even violence.

There's the lovely welcoming leaflets in Cambridgeshire telling Polish immigrants to "Leave the EU, no more vermin here", which are being posted through peoples doors and, get this, distributed outside primary schools, primary schools of all places! Talk about inciting hate in children. There's the Italian who was violently assaulted for asking someone in a bar how they voted in the referendum. Oh and who could forget the charmers on the Manchester tram just this morning, shouting and throwing beer at a Manchester resident to 'get off the f**king tram' and 'go back to Africa'! These are just a handful of the widespread incidents that are making my European family and friends feel a little less welcome in the country they call home. They are incidents that are certainly not enticing me to make a home in the UK in the future.

Whatever you voted on Thursday and whatever you now believe following the result, there's a lot of uncertainty and fear in the air. Maybe we don't have to worry about the freedom of movement. Maybe our children and grandchildren will still have the opportunity to travel and work in Europe freely as my friends, family and I did. But this wave of foreign intolerance is a certainty that is already happening. If there's one thing that people can do now is to take a united stand against the scourge of xenophobia and racism.  Showing respect for those that currently call the UK home would be a good start in keeping the status quo while the government get their sh*t together. I truly hope the pieces can be picked up and something good can come of this. For now, I'll leave you with some words of wisdom from Yeats (Don't worry I haven't turned into a big literature buff, I  heard this on the radio and liked the sound of it!)  "There are no strangers here, only friends you haven’t yet met". After all, remember every  'immigrant' is someone's dad, son, daughter or mum,  just like you and I, who just need some help and support.