I feel like I should write something to commemorate Brexit Eve, but honestly I feel like everything I want to say has already been said. Three-and-a-half years ago I wrote on this blog why, despite a deep Euroscepticism, I believed people should vote Remain. Then, after the referendum, I encouraged people to get on with making Brexit a success—which, to me, meant fighting for a fair, progressive, leftwing Brexit.
2016 was a long time ago. I’ve since lost my Euroscepticism and become, if not an enthusiastic at least a pragmatic Europhile. Some may say that I’ve given into tribalism, but I’ve come by my feelings on globalization and international cooperation honestly, having seen not just Britain but the world double down on isolation and nativism. From America to Brazil to Austria to the Philippines, the far right is ascendant and seeks to dismantle the internationalism of the last quarter-century. It makes me sad.
I keep thinking about the people who will be celebrating tomorrow. In some ways I can’t begrudge them. Many Brexiteers have wanted this for a long time, working to take Britain out of Europe for years or decades. For them it’s the moment they have been waiting for, a culmination of all their work and the fulfillment of their deepest political desire. Still, given how divided the country is, the raucous celebrations being planned and the celebratory tea towels with Boris Johnson’s smug and utterly punchable face screen-pressed onto them seem crass, at best. A little magnanimity from the Brexiteers would be nice, but I’m not holding my breath; “conciliation” is not one of their traits. Indeed, it is a vice rather than a virtue to most of them.
Then I remember the children who will grow up British but not European. The teenagers who feel as though their future has been robbed from them. The #FBPE Twitterati who genuinely believe the European Union is the key to all future success and that, outside of it, Britain will be but a shell of its former self—a has-been among nations, the senile old uncle to whom no one ever writes but still somehow winds up at Christmas dinner, at least. Anyone who has ever experienced electoral loss can sympathize with them.
For the dyed-in-the-wool true believers, though, it’s even more painful than an election defeat. Boris Johnson might be Prime Minister now, but within five years we’ll have a chance to put him out. Brexit is a once-in-a-generation, if not lifetime, event. What’s done is done. It’s like a Panem reaping: your name has been drawn; you can’t go back. It’s well and truly over—may the odds be ever in your favour.
For what it’s worth, I doubt the worst will come to pass. It seldom does. Whatever the consequences of this foolish retreat into itself, Britain is still one of the wealthiest nations on the planet. That isn’t going to stop being true anytime soon. There will be hiccups, no doubt – I wouldn’t want to be in Dover next month, and God be with us if the prosecco runs out – but it’s hardly the war. You’ll still have bread, and electricity, and bombs won’t be falling on your house. Low bar, I realise, but I’m grasping at straws.
I don’t know what comes next. What do the Remainers put their energies towards now that overturning the referendum is impossible? It will be interesting to see. One thing I hope is that we can move forward. For four years Brexit has dominated the national conversation. You couldn’t turn on Question Time without at least half the conversation being dominated by Brexit. The other half was dominated by racists, and often the two overlapped. Not always a correlation, but rarely a coincidence. There are pressing issues facing the nation, though. Maybe they can get addressed now. Maybe.
My heart goes out to those who are sad, or angry, or bitter, or alternately or simultaneously all three. It’s a tough pill to swallow. If the medicine shortages come to pass, it could also be your last pill to swallow. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. As I said, probably won’t.
To those who are happy, those who wanted Brexit more than they wanted anything—even more than they wanted an all-white royal family—I wish you well as you celebrate getting both. Truly. And I’m sorry for that dig just there. It’s unfair. Not unwarranted, but unfair. Not all of you are foaming-at-the-mouth racists. Just a lot of you. But seriously, party to your heart’s content and your liver’s capacity. Just remember for every verse of “Land of Hope and Glory” you sing one of your compatriots listening to “Ode to Joy” and quietly weeping. You can leave the European Union, but you have to take them with you.
Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics for more than a decade. His work as appeared at The Independent, Salon, Huff Post UK, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter or become a supporter by contributing to his Patreon account.