It is not every day that you can get up in the morning and see a country’s fate changed permanently. Whilst I continue, perhaps in a state of denial, to tell myself that things may change, that a people’s referendum is not legally binding, that I’ll wake up tomorrow and it will all be over, so far, since Friday, the 24th of June, I have woken up each following day still a citizen of Brexit Britain, confined to Germany and unable to commiserate with friends, with family, with my university town, Oxford, which voted by a staggering 70% to remain – and yet relieved to be abroad, cocooned away from the abuse that seems to have come as a natural consequence, from the prejudice in the form of leaflets in postboxes and of abuse shouted from passing cars. Our Chancellor wrote us an email with a line that I have heard in many situations beforehand – when talking to my parents about the fall of the Berlin Wall or about the first man on the moon, 9/11, the 2008 Obama election:
I think we will always remember where we were when we received news of the results of yesterday’s referendum.
I was in my bed in Stuttgart, the windows wide open as the week had bought an unexpected heatwave our way after a rainy week, my phone connected to a flickering VPN, iPlayer on David Dimbleby giving a running commentary of each local authority being declared. I fell asleep only a few minutes before Sunderland was declared, the ecstasy of Newcastle and Gibraltar sparkling in my mind. I woke up with a start at 6am German time, with Leave on the way to victory. The BBC website had said results would not be clear until 7am English time. The polls, Yougov, Farage, even, had clearly put Remain into pole position. I had a lurch come to my stomach, but convinced myself I would wake up and it would be the other way round. On the S-Bahn to work, my phone finally pinged with a ZEIT notification. Brexit had won.
At work, I watched Cameron resign through the Guardian livestream. It felt amazingly surreal. I would every so often take a walk down our corridor, stop in our kitchenette, sip some water, and walk back to my desk. I decided to eat my lunch alone, and I cried in my tuna salad. The newspapers that came out the following day in Germany – from BILD’S “OUTsch!” to Stern’s “Die Briten…. die spinnen!” felt like a slap.
I didn’t vote in this referendum, something which may perhaps haunt me for years to come, even if my single vote, against the square million that makes up the bridge of difference between the two campaigns, would have been lost in a sea of local authorities voting to leave. I would have been a part of that Oxford 70%, along with the hardcore Remain authorities of an overwhelming majority of City of London, all of Cambridge, and the entirety of Scotland and Northern Ireland.
This was not out of laziness, nor out of disengagement: I did not have a renewed passport, something I have been procrastinating in doing since coming to university, given the luxury of also having an Italian ID card.
This concrete problem went hand in hand with my conviction that Cameron’s election promise, like many others, would merely be a lie (such as his vow not to cut tax credits). It would absolutely be madness to leave a Union founded on guaranteeing peace, I thought to myself. After all, the Union has given us A LOT. Monty Python , after going viral on social media with its Life of Brian clip illustrating some of the advantages the Union HAS given us, even ended up being used in Cameron’s campaign (prior to the rather ironic, yet fully expected siding on the part of John Cleese with the Leave campaign).
One of the things that people seem to miss about the European Union even now that the votes have been cast and the results announced, however, is the amount of security it gives people in their everyday lives.
I would find it absolutely impossible to be able to note these down in a manner which is both not erratic and is concise – I would advise you to read this list of advantages the Union membership gives us. There was also a viral graph with a very long list of respectable academics, politicans, organisations, and so on as Remain campaigners, and the Leave column essentially listing Trump, Boris and Katie Hopkins, but I can’t find it – will edit this if I do.
One of the things that has frustrated me the most in these past few days has been witnessing the amount of people who have come out regretting their vote, seemingly unaware of the consequences voting Leave would have; this has perhaps been even harder to swallow than the results itself.
I would like to believe that what the world has seen in these past few days since the vote itself – racial abuse, admittance on the part of politicans campaigning for Leave that they fed the public a hell of a lot of lies, the pound falling the lowest it has been in in over 30 years – also testifies to the fact that the ultimate result is not one which will allow the UK to “take control”. But it would take me too long to convince any reader of all of the aforementioned. There is a lot of faulty material to work with. What hurts the most is what hits home, and affects you entirely subjectively. My arrows have already been shot, those that will hit UK citizens will be fired in slow motion.
Hence, in the style of Ella Harold (read her pre-Brexit post here), in an attempt not to make this post completely incoherent and wayward, here is my list of reasons as to why this vote should have gone the other way – and yes, it is a list compiled on the basis of which factors affect me personally. And they affect thousands of others as much as me.
- EU Citizenship
All those who know me also know who strongly I feel about my double citizenship. With the ebb and flow of my language skills – feeling like an alien two years ago arriving in the UK, unable to reconnect to an entire life spent in Italy every time I go back now, with a strong English accent and most of my vocabulary having floated away – comes the swinging between my two identities. I am English when I am writing an academic essay, Italian when I am watching the European championship and, occasionally even German when dreaming or getting very picky about what bread I want to eat for breakfast. Being a mish mash has been the backbone of my entire life, personality, person.
Story of my life
When the votes came through on Friday morning, I felt ripped apart because I had considered myself European. The two for me are glued together, one sometimes weakening but never quite leaving me. I stopped feeling like Carolina, Angloitalian, bilingual, born in the UK and bought up in Italy. I felt like Carolina, imposter, person attacked on Twitter for being a “fake Brit” and in real life for “bringing the mafia along”.
I was told to go back to where I belonged by a British man in an Irish pub when I went to a Brexit debate there the night before results came out – I think he was from Devon, where Leave has prevailed enormously. But I belong in the UK as much as I belong in Florence, and this referendum has left me feeling unwanted and as though I am overstaying my welcome even though I was born in the same hospital as my friend from London. I can’t name a single Italian nursery rhyme or Disney song. I have no idea whether today I’d be even be able to write an essay in the language I was schooled in. I can’t put my finger on how reading the papers and a few online comments too many can deprive you of the feel of yourself almost entirely. Maybe this is the first time that the political really has become personal for me – and the taste I have had of this medicine isn’t even as bitter as others have had it. That scares me.
2. Academia, and specifically the study of modern languages
A trip to Dresden, during a stay in Saxony for a language course
Languages were decreasing steadily as a chosen A-Level even when I applied to university. I was fascinated by the little importance that the UK school curriculum gave to them, as a country with a language spoken all over the world yet also as such a multicultural and thus multilingual country. With Brexit, they have gone into downfall definitively. The effects of this referendum will mean that a degree in languages will be seen as a waste; Erasmus schemes, funded by the EU, will disappear – denying those who want to learn English the possibility of studying in the UK for a few months if measures for visas and goodness knows what are put into place, and cutting off contact with European countries for our year abroad as linguists. Who knows if the DAAD scholarship will survive.
The very reason I am at Oxford stems from the passion I had for German at eighteen – and how did that come about? Language courses, school exchanges, funds paid by the EU to the schools I went to so we could study subjects such as history of art and philosophy in German. It goes all the way back to when I was twelve.
My school was called Liceo Classico Europeo, one of twelve in Italy, and our curriculum was based on shaping us into well-rounded European citizens – we did classics as we would have done at a normal classico, but there was a high percentage of hours spent on languages, foreign culture, and we travelled to about two European destinations a year. EU funds allowed me to go to school in Freiburg, to visit Greece, all of it, from Athens to Thessaloniki, and see my Greek theatre lessons come to life. I should feel immensely grateful to not be at school anymore, and instead, I feel tremendously angry for those who will be denied these opportunities at all schools in the UK and for all European schools who will no longer interact with the UK in turn. The UK is cutting itself off from an enormously rich array of cultural heritage, of linguistic difference. A small glimmer of gratitude came to me when receiving an email from my language tutors in college today.
‘St Hilda’s, indeed our University, has thrived on making no national distinctions in academic potential and achievement. The thought of doing so heralds the end of academic integrity. I ask of all that we adopt a position of unshakeable solidarity with our EU colleagues and students; past, present and future; and do our utmost to maintain this position in the face of whatever may come our way. … I would like St Hilda’s to use every effort to prevent any erosion of our European and international spirit.‘
3. Diplomacy and careers
The European Parliament, on a school visit in 2012
The idea of being an ambassador was toyed with when I was seventeen. I’d love that kind of job. I couldn’t imagine being in a career which slices my languages out of my life, limiting me to one. I want to work in a cooperative environment, I want my travels and meetings and colleagues and studies to span countries, to span the continent. And I want to do that from an English base point, not from an Italian one, otherwise I wouldn’t have even bothered sending off my UCAS application form.
I switch ideas about my career a lot – they are limited to three distinct ones, and each day I want to be a different one of the three. A foreign correspondent, whether on broadcast media or working for a newspaper . A human rights lawyer, working to get a law diploma from the UK after university and then beginning work over different countries. I want to be the person that makes a new country come into peace with another, who dissolves tension, represents one as well as the other, who makes a real change into this world. And now I’m not sure that the London I dreamed of, the world in a city, the incredible working place I had been looking forward to as well being slightly scared to move to following university, feels a million miles from anything I could ever reach.
The pound is plummeting, tension against foreigners is sky high, contacts with the EU might be closed off. It is the hole in my heart that will take the longest to heal following these results, because it is essentially either sending me back home – where I would struggle to find work even with an Oxford degree, and where I ultimately do not particularly want to live permanently – or forcing me to switch careers. I still, deep in my heart, want to be an ambassador with a hope that keeps me awake at night – and now I have no idea whether I’ll even be staying in the country after university.
There are so many other factors that could be in this list. The way Labour has been almost absent on the scene, losing many votes for the Remain campaign. Sunderland was supposed to be a secured Remain spot.
The terror which is shrouding most people who have had the misfortune of realising what kind of politician Theresa May is – every Conservative friend I have takes their distance from her and her nasty, narrow-minded ways. Her immigration policies belong in the thirties, and she is currently very possibly our next PM.
The fact that this referendum represents almost no people in my age bracket, meaning the decisions regarding our futures have been taken by people who will not have to live through them. The rhetoric surrounding this last point throws around words such as ageism, indignation that I should be appreciative of their hard fighting in the world wars so to give Britain a vote. No man fought for my vote.
I have no idea what is yet to come, and I am trying to feel optimistic. But it is hard to do so when more than anything else, I continue to be the European I have been shaped into, and to continue to hope every day that somehow, in some way, these results will be overturned. I was always rather indifferent to Cameron: I thought there were far worse politicans (as mentioned above) – yet he is the person behind this entire disaster, and I loathe him for promising this referendum in the first place, and for putting this enormous decision into the hands of the entire country too soon, too hastily, convinced it would be followed up with a victory. I fear people did not fully comprehend the role of the institution that the EU is, the economic damage, not repeat of the Golden Age, that would come, the way the country is depriving itself of exactly what has made it into the place I want to live.
Or wanted, perhaps. But the consequences have not yet been unravelled properly. I will merely have to wait, hope, and see.