Brexit Britain - I Weep for You


    Images of me growing up in Europe: Top Left: at the Stuttgart Christmas Market, 1989. Top Right: In Paris by the Eiffel Tower, 2007. Bottom Left: in Trafalgar Square London, standing next to my Dad feeding the pidgeons, 1990. Bottom Right: standing with my Dad and stepbrother by the Freiburg clocktower, 2007.


    I was born in China and moved to Germany with my parents when I was six. When I was seven I moved with them to Cambridge and then to London, where I grew up. My Dad worked in Germany and every summer vacation he used to drive my family through the countrysides of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France and Southern Germany.

    I went to school with children whose parents had immigrated from across Europe. In university my best friends were from the European continent - Greece, Cyprus, Poland and Turkey. In graduate school, over half of our department was made up of European scientists, many funded by collaborative EU grants.

    A couple of weeks I thought I had no stake in the Brexit referendum, because I have not been back to Europe in nearly a decade. But after further examination I realized that it influences me on a very deep level. The decision for Britain to leave the EU was shocking to much of the world and on a personal level it is a challenge to who I am. As a trans-national, multicultural citizen, the very notion of closing off borders, reducing trade and ignoring what “experts” have to say goes against my very notion of being human in the 21st century. As the famous English TV physicist Brian Cox recently said, of ignoring experts, “It’s entirely wrong, and it’s the road back to the cave”. Yet that is what happened when millions of people chose to listen to scaremongering propaganda, by voting leave.

    In many ways, seeing this decision on June 23rd was like seeing my parents get divorced or seeing a family dog die in a slow-motion traffic accident. The once great empire of Britain, my former adopted nation, has voted itself into a secluded corner and gone down in a whimper. The whimpering sound of Boris Johnson, the “Leave” campaign mascot and many other so-called leaders backing down from running for political leadership. To say that I feel disheartened and disappointed is putting it mildly.

    Those who will bear the brunt of the storm, once the UK formally leaves the EU, will be of my generation and younger. The students who will not be able to take advantage of the Erasmus programs for European scholarships to top universities. The businesses that will shut down in the UK and move elsewhere for more practical trade. The scientists and doctors who will not be able to work and serve the National Health Service. Clement Attlee is probably turning in his grave, and in all likelihood, so is Winston Churchill.

    In some ways our generation is partly to blame for the result of this vote. Seeing that Sky news data made me realize how few people below the age of 35 actually showed up to participate. Only 36% of 18-24 year-olds and 58% of 25-34 year-olds bothered to turn up at the voting booth. And of those who voted, I wonder how many actually understood what they were voting for. Maybe everyone was just tweeting and Facebooking nonsense emojis. Sometimes I feel a pang of narcissistic guilt for not keeping some semblance of an address in the UK and throwing in a postal vote to tip the scales. Not that my one vote to stay would have made a difference against nearly 2 million extra votes for leave.

    An irony that the country that brought western democracy to the world, preaching the benefits of globalization has chosen to be the first one to withdraw from it. The fact is, the old system of democracy is breaking down and we are at a loss as to how to reform it. To add to that, globalization has created a flawed system of winners and losers whose wealth and opportunity disparity have led to a social rift. Britain will need time to heal and so will Europe. Perhaps the people of Britain will find a way, through social media or otherwise, to bring about compassion to mend the divisions that have been set up. Perhaps one day Britain can even use an effective online ballot to avoid voting disasters like this. But the economic divisions will not be mended so easily.

    For now, I will mourn the loss of British global influence and European unity. I will settle back and reminisce on the halcyon days of sitting in my Dad’s car, seeing the peaceful, flat and verdant European countryside roll by like a dream.


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