Hello my lovely booklovers,
how are you? Welcome to the Weekend Coffee Share, a blog hop by the lovely Diana over at Part Time Monster. Every weekend we get together for virtual coffees and a little casual chat. How has this past week been for you?
Today is a sad day for me, and for much of mainland Europe too, I expect. I don’t usually get political, but the Brexit referendum is a topic I have to speak up about, and I cannot believe that the UK voted to LEAVE the European Union. I’ve spent all day trying to find the words to describe how I feel about this, and what it boils down to is anger… and utter disappointment.
So if we were having coffee today, we wouldn’t talk about books, I’m afraid. I’d have to tell you this:
I was born in an EU member state: Germany. I’m a West-German baby, born before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and I saw my country reunite. I saw deals like the Schengen-Agreement be made, and remember the first time we went on holiday to Austria and didn’t have to show our passports – we still had them at the ready, though.
I grew up in an open and accessible Europe, in a country right at the centre, with 9 countries only a few hours’ drive away and no border controls. On the streets and in my classroom, I’d hear (and learn) some words in Turkish, Italian, Polish, Russian, Arabic, English, French, Croatian, Hungarian, Dutch, Vietnamese and Cantonese. Among others. My class visited churches, synagogues and mosques, celebrated Christmas and Ramadan. My classmates and neighbourhood were multicultural and I was brought up with the full benefits of EU membership at my disposal.
So when I decided to attend university abroad, I never had to worry about international fees or student visas. I could pick any university in any of the EU member states, and (providing I got accepted) move there without any problems.
Great Britain became my home for six years. And I love that country dearly. But I feel like it stabbed me in the back last night. And not just me, all young Europeans, Britons included. 75% of the Under-50 voters wanted to remain a part of the European Union. It’s the 50+ age bracket that screwed up a whole generation’s future in one fell swoop. Sure, it’ll be a while until the exit will actually take place, and there might be new deals, but my generation and our children are the ones who will have to live with the consequences the longest.
Erasmus student programmes? More than likely a thing of the past. Free travel throughout Europe? Ditto. And I wouldn’t count on your NHS insurance card being recognised on the mainland much longer. There’s a reason 95% of the ex-pats (or, you know, EU immigrants as others call them) in Gibraltar voted to remain. They know what sort of benefits they’re losing.
Over the past decade, I’ve attended countless events and exhibitions that had some sort of direct or indirect EU funding. Plays, concerts, festivals, trade fairs, all sorts of projects and organisations are backed by European sponsors through either the money itself or they have work exchange programmes, grants, skill exchange, research collaborations etc.
What irks me, is that among today’s top Google searches was “What is the EU?” – that in itself tells me that the majority of voters last nights were lemmings led on by xenophobes. They voted against immigration policies they knew nothing about, but did not consider the economic and socio-cultural ramifications of that vote. A main argument was that they need tighter border control. Well, newsflash: you’re an island nation. And if you’ve ever taken the ferry, chunnel or flown to Benidorm, you’ll have had to show your passport both ways. What makes you think there is no border control?? Have you never had to go through passport control and security at a major airport? It takes ages, and that’s in the fast lane. (Oh yes, kiss goodbye to the usage of that convenient “EU Passport” lane. Welcome to “All Other Passports!”).
I HAVE BEEN AN EU IMMIGRANT IN THE UNITED KINGDOM MYSELF. I know what it’s like to be a foreigner there. Being a citizen of an EU member state has given me the opportunity to study journalism and tourism management in England and getting a bachelor’s degree. It allowed me to live in Carlisle and Southport. I could get a car and drive it with my German / EU driver’s licence, without having to get an international licence or eventually resitting a British licence. I was allowed to work without restrictions, leave and return to Britain whenever I pleased. My 2013 departure was only ever meant to be temporary. I had always planned to move back there eventually.
Am I surprised that Pound Sterling nose-dived within hours of the referendum? Not at all. It dropped by around 11% – that’s an economic disaster. I mean, it’s good for me right now because the pound is so weak, so I should really get a London shopping trip in asap while I still can.
I think both sides of the argument have been scaremongering but I had hoped to the last that common sense would prevail. The Leave campaign was fronted by Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. Look at those numpties. They’re on record as xenophobic liars. Within an hour of the referendum result, Farage began to backpaddle on his earlier statements especially regarding the NHS. The argument was that they didn’t want to be governed by someone they didn’t elect (i.e. follow rules and laws set out by the EU). And that from a nation that once elected (!!) the British National Party leader Nick Griffin as a Member of European Parliament. MEPs are elected every five years on the basis of universal adult suffrage, and have to be already serving as MP at home. So much for the “unelected” part. Well, now that PM David Cameron is resigning, you WILL end up with one of them – and Boris is looking likely – as a PM. WITHOUT having voted for him. Well done. The whole point of the EU is that it’s a compromise that all members will benefit from. The UK has always had a special status already. Many here see the Brexit as a temper tantrum of epic proportions because they never learned to compromise and play nice. Farage declared yesterday “Independence Day”. As I said on my Facebook wall this morning: “Looks like the lunatics have taken over. Clearly more brawns than brains, just like English hooligans demonstrated last week. Big surprise there. I’m wondering whether there is one working brain cell among the Leave voters. Because it doesn’t look like it.”
I was amazed by the Northern Irish and Scottish results. All of Scotland voted to Remain. And most of NI as well. Even my old home, Sefton, voted Remain and I’m oddly proud of that. But what became clear was that except for Birmingham, main transport and tourism hubs voted to remain. Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester, Cardiff, London, Leeds, York, Brighton and the South Lakes. Plus Cambridge and Oxford. I guess it really did show the educational divide after all.
There was no landslide win. In fact, a 51.9 % to 48.1% vote is, for me personally, too close to call. It means that the country is well and truly divided. So can such a narrow margin really be hailed as a majority vote? I don’t think it can. All my friends today took to social media to vent their anger at having future chances taken away from them by a generation that got educated for free, earned a decent living wage, was able to afford housing and start a family and which is set to get a nice pension. My generation graduated during the recession, had to take any job just to make ends meet, has to pay through the nose for education (and let’s face it, £9,000 p.a. for a Home/EU degree is already way more than that degree is worth, unless it’s from Oxbridge – imagine having to pay extortionate international fees for the same lectures!!), can’t get onto the property ladder, and will more than likely have to work till we cark it because there’s no money left for a decent pension scheme. They’re the generation looking elsewhere for work. Just like many immigrants – from the EU and elsewhere – come to the UK to better their chances, Britons until now where free to leave and do the same.
I have spent my life so far promoting cross-cultural communication, as a volunteer in various countries, as an exchange student in New Zealand where I was my school’s Cultural Ambassador, at home. I studied travel journalism because I wanted to tell people about other cultures, and now I’m about to graduate from a Cross-Cultural Communication degree. The rise of a new nationalism and xenophobia in recent months and years as very scary indeed. I’ve been a foreigner more than once. And I know what it’s like to be the only one of your skin-colour in the whole neighbourhood, or the only one of your religion. I’ve been there. And I’ve seen how countries treat foreigners. If you’ve ever been the foreigner yourself, had to deal with xenophobia, language barriers, culture shock and mistrust, been called every name under the sun for wanting to work and make enough to survive on, you would not treat someone else that way. I actually recently championed for a compulsory period abroad after school to further intercultural understanding. And let’s face it: a skilled immigrant will get the job if he fits the role and has the necessary qualifications. If you’re a doctor and a hospital abroad needs someone with your skillset, why wouldn’t you apply? And if an unskilled worker – who may be a refugee, or doesn’t speak the language (etc. etc.) – can get a job while you’re still on the dole he’s not the problem with this society.
More than anything I am absolutely gobsmacked how a small island nation can be so stupid and bite the hand that feeds it. It would (probably) never happen, but let’s play a round of What If?: What if France said they’ve had enough of looking after the refugees in Calais and handed them over to the UK? What if the remaining EU states would say “well, you wanted out, so stay out” and closed all ports, airports and the tunnel? No more imports, no more exports. What if all immigrants went on strike on the same day? No more non-British bus drivers, taxi drivers, waiters, cashiers, doctors, lawyers – it would cripple the UK’s economy. Can such a small island really afford to cut the ties with the EU? One of my undergraduate professors posted earlier that Britain is so much better off as an independent nation and complaining about the unfair reaction from the Remain voters. Funnily enough, his only two foreign students, a Swedish girl and yours truly, were the only ones to challenge him to explain how leaving could possibly be better. I’m also down 7 Facebook friends so far. But good riddance. I’m a champion for multiculturalism. If you don’t agree with those views and think they’re a deal breaker, feel free to unfriend and remove yourself from my friends list. I like my friends to be open-minded and tolerant towards other cultures, so weeding themselves out saves me the trouble.
The uncertainty is what’s scariest. Many of my friends are EU immigrants in Britain. They’re now really afraid of what might happen in the future. Are they allowed to stay once the Brexit is complete? Could they even afford it? Does this exit reduce their chances of getting hired? Quite a few are already looking into moving away. Scotland, and possibly even Northern Ireland, could be heading for their own referendum for independence from London. For months now I’ve looked into possibly getting a PhD in the UK. But with the current climate I might take my skills (and money) to a more future-oriented and less xenophobic country.
Sorry for the very long rant. But this referendum has made me so mad. For more relaxed coffee chats, visit the other Weekend Coffee Sharers or rant along with me. Whatever you like.
Thank you for listening and for having coffee with me.
Same time, next week?