Why you should care
Because you can never go back.
I’ve explored your castles, drunk your bubbly and punted your rivers. I’ve learned to drive on the “right” side of the road, not to expect much from summer and to call your natives my dearest friends. I’ve given birth in your hospitals, edited your newspapers, cheered for your soccer team and toasted the Queen, first for her Golden Jubilee in 2002 and more recently for her 90th birthday. And now, having spent most of my adult life in Britain and Europe, I’ve just watched you look over the cliffs of Dover, see the danger below and say, “What the hell, let’s jump!”
“I’m leaving the country,” a close friend texted me this morning, which is how I learned that my beloved adopted home had voted with its feet to leave the EU. “Can I come to the U.S. with you?” she joked. But I found no reason to laugh. My own Trexit plans — Tracy’s Brexit — predate this week’s vote. I’d been dreading the fact that I have to quit both Britain and Europe — we lived in Germany for four years — to move back to the United States in three short weeks.
And in one fell electoral swoop, their childhood home has gone up in smoke.
Despite being 100 percent American, my beautiful daughters — ages 10 and 7 — know nothing of America. When people ask them which state they’re from, the answer is “Cambridgeshire.” That’s the county of their birth, the only place they really know. They’re addicted to Doctor Who, Harry Potter and BBC history documentaries. My eldest speaks fluent German from our time in Deutschland, where she fell in love with Tin Tin, rote wurst and Apfelschorle. Our youngest never had to dream of pretending to be a fairy-tale princess because there’s forever a castle just a stone’s throw away.
And in one fell electoral swoop, their childhood home has gone up in smoke. While we’ve discussed how we might plot our return to Europe — owing to a way of life we love, history we appreciate and friends we adore — it’s clear that we can never truly go back.
As OZY’s PDB editor, I’m acutely aware of international affairs. I’ve gritted my teeth as anti-immigrant rhetoric has grown louder throughout Europe, and as populists gained momentum — from France to Poland. I screamed at David Cameron for opening up this can of worms and listened, in horror, to close friends tell me why they were voting “Leave.” Too many people are coming from Eastern Europe and taking their jobs and welfare, they said. These nameless, faceless “usurpers,” in fact, haven’t infiltrated British shores anywhere near the levels Brexiters assume. In my experience, Poles and Hungarians are the house painters and handymen who actually show up and get the job done, filling gaps in the British workforce. They’re young and pay into the system, so rather than drawing on the dole, they’re helping fatten up NHS coffers for today’s Old Age Pensioners. And that stream of dreaded Syrian refugees flooding Britain’s shores simply doesn’t exist.
Even the racism I’ve heard has come in a stiff upper lip sort of way: Acquaintances spouting such arguments tend to wish migrants well — just not on their shores — a far cry from the anti-ethnic undertones heard elsewhere on the Continent. But the overwhelming emotional draw to Brexit seems to have been this notion of going back in time. Standing alone and making the country great again. Restoring the Britain everyone knew as kids. Pre-EU regulations. Pre-EU “interference.” Misplaced anti-migrant sentiment, nostalgia and pride, in other words, have won the day.
I’m sure we’ll visit friends in the U.K. in the years to come. But I now know we’ll be landing in an isolated, inward-looking U.K. — and a smaller, more populist Continent. Britons can never go back; nor can we. Not to the England we both knew and loved yesterday.