Now that the UK has voted to leave the European Union I feel as I felt the night my father died. I’ve had little sleep. I’m listening to sad music and struggling to make sense of the shock.
What’s different is that I knew my father was close to death—and he died magnificently at 81, leaving a proud heritage. It was a beautiful ending. I didn’t see the vote to leave coming, although I knew it was possible. It is an ending, but not a beautiful and magnificent one; and more it is the start of turbulence and uncertainty that will continue for years and probably (not possibly) end with Britain much diminished.
The saddest aspect for me is that we, the old, have betrayed the young, yet again. The old voted strongly to leave, the young overwhelmingly to remain. We have already left them a poisoned planet, wide inequalities, huge debt, and unaffordable housing. Now we are denying them the future they wanted. James, my son who lives in Mexico, wrote of the betrayal he feels for his son, my grandson, who has a passport that would allow him to work, live, and travel in a beautiful and historical continent and now may not. Freddie, another son, thinks of becoming a Scottish citizen (on the assumption that Scotland will separate from the rest of the UK and stay in the EU). Flo, my daughter, will be working in an NHS that will probably be still further constrained because of economic decline.
I feel sorry too for many of the people who have voted to leave. Many of them were the poorest, least educated people in our society. Partly they were conned, promised a better life that is unlikely to be delivered. Partly they voted in anger, bitterness and disenchantment, which is understandable, but I fear that they haven’t understood the probable consequences. It is the poorest and least educated who are likely to suffer the most from us leaving the UK.
The referendum has exposed how we are divided by geography, age, education, class, and attitude. I live in a borough with one of the highest votes for Remain (perhaps the highest, putting Gibraltar to one side), and—perhaps tragically—I don’t know a single Leave voter, although they are the majority. I fear that our divisions won’t heal, not least because the elite (that’s me) won’t suffer but the poor will feel betrayed.
Then I remember that the prime reason for creating the European Union was to stop war. My father and grandfather fought world wars, which was not surprising because Europe had seen more than two millennia of nearly constant war. The European Union has stopped major wars In Europe. I hope that they won’t return.
I think of myself as a cheerful pessimist, although Lin says that I’m really a cheerful optimist. The future will “blossom regardless,” and I will remain cheerful and I do what I can to help Britain heal, keep us close to Europe and the rest of the world, and maintain us as outward looking, creative, tolerant, and welcoming.