It’s a couple of months since the EU referendum - though it sometimes feels like it happened in another era. What have we learned in that time?
Niall Griffiths looks back in anger at the EU referendum and wonders what the future holds
‘Brexit means Brexit’ (whatever that means), that ‘we’ve got our country back’ (the same), that ‘we’ve regained our sovereignty’ (ditto, because we’d never lost it) and ‘taken back control of our borders’ - you get the picture. We’ve been told that to categorise every Leave voter as an uneducated, xenophobic hick is offensive and wrong (but that every Remain voter was a spoilt middle class brat), and that people were sick and tired of answering to an unelected elite; Nigel ‘Breaking Point’ Farage has told us this, as has Boris ‘Piccaninnies’ Johnson, and Michael ‘Had Enough of Experts’ Gove. And we should believe them, exclusively educated and powerful as they are, because they’re evidently superior to us. And we should believe Theresa May too, unelected leader though she is, because, well, the disenfranchised have spoken, haven’t they? They’ve had their voices heard, and now they want something to be done, although no-one has any idea of what that might be. It’s just, well, y’know: British values and all that. Freedom from Johnny Foreigner and his wily ways. Straight bananas, health and safety gone mad, that sort of thing.
So, what will be your abiding memory of the last days of June 2016? Will it be of Farage, declaring ‘this is our independence day’ or will it be of Jo Cox and her shattered family, or of the fact that many countries on the planet have their own independence day and it usually signifies independence from Britain? Or will you remember Nige in Brussels, little man with his little flag, scion of Dulwich College, son of a wealthy stockbroker, telling the gathered grandees that they’ve ‘never done a proper job in their lives’? Or will it be of the Lithuanian representative, cringing at those words, the man who was born in a gulag, everything in his early life militating against the highly respected and successful heart surgeon that he would become?
Or maybe you’ll remember Bojo; loveable, bumbling, zip-wire, man-boy Boris on the morning of the result, giving his speech before dashing off to post his Daily Telegraph column, for which he is paid a quarter of a million a year (a sum which he describes as ‘chickenfeed’) - his speech in which he declared that nothing would change, that everything would stay the same? Because he was speaking for the downtrodden, wasn’t he, him and his mini-me Michael, defending the zero-hour-contracted, the rent-crippled, the sacked, the struggling, the stigmatised? It was his concern for the deracinated that drove him to join the Leave campaign, not slavering opportunism - no, not monstrous self-promotion.
Or maybe it’ll be Cameron’s jaunty little tune that you remember, as he abandoned the country that he ‘loves so much’ to the wreckage that he made of it. Maybe you’ll remember the immediate spike in hate crime; of the Polish family labelled as vermin, of the black children spat at, of the grocery shops with non-British-sounding names above their doors fire-bombed. Maybe you’ll remember the 350 million- a-week promised to the NHS, a figure denounced by its author the very day of his triumph. Or the puerile squabbling of those who should’ve been able to put their differences aside and provide the coherent opposition that a well-functioning democracy needs. Odds are you won’t remember Scotland or Northern Ireland in all of this, because neither Leave or Remain thought them important enough to mention.
“Straight bananas, health and safety gone mad, that sort of thing”
And the memories, now, are they helping you in any way? Perhaps they’re helping to heal the familial rift, the generational breach, that has occurred with the realisation that those dearest to you harbour thoughts anathema to your own - and that they voted for an upheaval, the negative consequences of which they won’t be around to see or suffer. Maybe the memories are helping you to cope with the realisation that, well, some of the Leave promises were a teensy bit exaggerated; that it might be, in fact, further austerity that will support the ailing NHS, rather than the 350 million that isn’t given to the EU every week. That maybe there won’t be control of immigration after all, because the free movement of labour is a precondition of involvement in the single market, and that maybe migration of labour is a good thing anyway.
‘Britain is great again’, ‘we’ve got our country back’; repeat these phrases, and let them, and the memories, be what we’ve been told to believe they are; emblems of national pride, and most definitely not national fear, or national disgust, or national shame. Definitely not that.
©Niall Griffiths 2016