Brexit and the British

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If democracy were to be trusted we could say that the common man got what they wanted three months ago on June 23rd, when 52% of the UK population voted to leave the European Union. However, it throws the very notion of democracy into question when the mass media, coerced by the political elite, has an agenda. What we didn’t see coming is the complete lack of aforementioned agenda — or indeed any plan or blueprints at all — when they achieved the result they so passionately campaigned for.

Let’s go back to the morning after the vote, when I woke to (what for me was) both shocking and devastating news. As an expat living in Estonia — whose wife and one of my children (who is Russian born) are only here in Estonia by exploiting an EU directive allowing non-EEA families of EU citizens to get residency in an EU country — I felt the weight of the vote very heavily. The worst-case-scenario would mean we have to leave Estonia two years after Article 50 is triggered, as much as I optimistically doubt this.

Social media exploded, exposing a country divided. The run up to the vote had seen political tensions stretched amongst friends, whose political conversations had previously barely graduated beyond blaming ‘the government’ for any given week’s niggle. They had found a new voice, posting essays worthy of academic publication over the social networks. People were affected in a way I personally had never seen in my entire life.

The ugly side of Brexit soon showed its face: attacks on EU expats living in the UK rose by 400%, there were reports of long term residents being shouted at in supermarkets to, “go home now! We won, we’ve left the EU.” These things started happening the very next morning.

So, whilst some of us were left feeling bereft, lost and ashamed of our country, others danced in the streets, believing that the answer to all their problems was just a bit of light admin away.

Today, whilst the pundits and political commentators mull over the cryptic sound-bites from surviving politicians, through a chaos arguably not seen in politics throughout two world wars and beyond, we are drawn to ask how the man on the street feels about all this?

It’s clear to all those running the Leave campaign we’re simply not expecting a win, having all resigned and run to the hills. David Cameron also resigning as Prime Minister, to leave Theresa May (it should be noted, a ‘Remainer’) in charge of carrying out the execution of Brexit, tells us that he too was ill prepared, with no plan for how he may steer the country to safety other than to jump ship.

Everyday Brits seem to have absorbed the clear fact that the government has messed up, that they lied and manipulated the media to achieve something they didn’t know how to action; everyday Brits have, in my opinion, taken a step back. On the face of it, life hasn’t changed all that much, the sun still rises (behind the clouds we’re told) and life goes on.

The sad thing here is that both those who voted Remain (myself included) and those who voted Leave have lost out. The Remain camp stands to lose free movement, trade and the myriad of other perks of being in the EU, along with pride in a country that could be patriotic as well as being a part of something bigger.

Though it’s the Leaver’s that I really feel for, they are the cheated ones. Their protest-vote against a government that doesn’t respect them, not only stands to throw the country into years of instability, but coldly highlights the contempt and underestimation of their intelligence by those from the establishment they actually did decide to trust — the very things their revolt was impassioned by.

On both sides, people now know there is no plan and there never was, and they know quite clearly the challenges we face: Trade deals that may take years, rewriting of laws and their subsequent passing through Parliament which probably will take years, renegotiation of freedom of movement deals to accommodate both EU residents settled within the UK and UK citizens abroad, the list goes on.

As a result of the obvious uncertainty, the feeling now is one of calm. Those on the Left and Centre, usually but not exclusively Remain voters, sit back with a semi-smug knowledge of the colossal task ahead for Theresa May’s government, in the quiet hope that the process falls at one of the many hurdles that they are confident lie ahead.

Those on the Right, of whom there were a high proportion of Leave voters, are relaxed and happy, based on carefully released reports in the media that the wheels of Brexit — the undefinable thing they voted for — are in motion; even if there is no known destination as yet, or competent driver for that matter.

Academics continue to muse over the probabilities and hypothesise about the outcomes, journalists’ circular discussions (like this one) based on the very few ‘facts’ we have will continue to fill airtime and newspaper columns, and blokes down the pub will still blame the government and the EU for everything going wrong in their lives.

Given that no one on the Leave side truly knew what they voted for, and no one at all knows where the road we are on may lead, it was comforting indeed when our Prime Minister Theresa May finally helped us define what Brexit actually was with the following, confident statement; and in the age of Twitter it could almost be viewed as poetic genius in the way that it sums up the mess we are in on so many levels: “Brexit means Brexit!” she said.

I want to thank you, Theresa May. I’ve been sleeping so much better since you clarified that.

If this article feels like it repeats itself a little, or is vague and ambiguous, or it ends without the kind of conclusion you were hoping for, then I’ll be happy that I have successfully communicated how we British feel about Brexit at present. Brexit is chaotic, it’s vague, it is both catastrophic and insignificant; life changing for some, as subtle as a change in the direction of the wind for others: a personal experience.

The British people generally don’t let the big things grind them down, and as a nation of people we need to do what we do best. And as clichéd as it may be, I really think we seem to be doing yet another great job of keeping calm and carrying on.

First appeared in Postimees, Saturday 17th September 2016