It’s a fact of life isn’t it that you recall where you were when you first heard about a major event – I was in the cloakroom at school when I heard John Lennon had been shot; in the car driving to the Supermarket when I heard about Princess Diana’s death and then drinking tea with a friend when her husband came through the door, white-faced and told us about the attack on the World Trade Centre. All these are brief moments in time that have stayed with me for years.
On 24th June 2016 I was in France at our ‘long-dreamed of’ little house that we had finally managed to buy a couple of months earlier and woke in the early hours to watch the news feeds about the Brexit vote. A friend, based in Exeter had posted on Facebook that there had been a big local turnout and that she felt it may be a 58 – 42 split in favour of remain, how I wish she had been right.
I still remember feeling in shock as it became clear that by a very narrow margin, the votes had been cast to Leave Europe – whatever that phrase actually meant – as to be honest even then it wasn’t altogether clear.
It is hard to really describe my feelings, other than it felt as if the earth had somehow shifted on its axis – in that so many things that I had been brought up to believe were somehow left hanging by a thread and I couldn’t even start to process the impact it would inevitably have on society, us and importantly our children’s lives.
I spent that morning wandering around Lourmarin market, just to have a sense of normality and to check that the world really was still turning. I know this probably sounds an extreme reaction, but looking back on it I was in a state of shock at the whole situation, compounded by being in France on my own at the time trying to rationalise what had happened with Andy over a dodgy Skype connection .
The fact is that we have always looked outwards – this doesn’t mean that we don’t consider ourselves to be British, just that we recognise the value there is in diversity and the opportunities there are for everyone when there is freedom of movement. I know people from Europe and further afield who have chosen to make England their home, loving the country, the culture and their ability to develop their own life here – equally there are others who have made the move to Europe – studying at University, relocating through work, grabbing the chance to establish their own business and bring up their family in a different country or simply choosing to spend their retirement there. The fact that so many of these people had no vote in the referendum is something I still struggle to understand.
I admit too that I have never had any confidence in the negotiating process – my brief experience of dealing with Government gave me the impression that there was very little discussion across Departments on relatively simple matters – so I couldn’t even start to imagine them having to work together, let alone with others to negotiate something on this scale and all I have seen in the last 2 years has done nothing to change my mind.
The fact is 2 years on from the vote it feels not only that we are no further forward, but that actually we are taking huge steps backwards with incredible mixed messages being delivered in ridiculous soundbites by some politicians and journalists who seem to have lost the ability to express themselves in anything other than the simplest terms. Whether that is ‘Brexit means Brexit’ (really and what does Brexit actually mean for those of us who would like to know the detail) or yesterday’s headline catchphrase from our Foreign Secretary to avoid a ‘Bog Roll Brexit’ …….. I really don’t know what to say to this.
Yesterday an injury prevented me from heading to London to march with people from across the Country who feel the same about what is happening. The fact that so many thousands of people turned up to march is testament to the strength of feeling there is on this. The goal posts are constantly shifting – statements made during the campaign two years ago have been thrown aside and only now is the true impact becoming clear.
Setting the constitutional, business and economic impacts to one side for the moment, for me this process is about people. Individuals have seen their lives put on hold, not knowing exactly what the future holds for them now. Will they be able to stay in the UK? Will those in other countries still be able to live and work there? Will our children still have the freedoms that we have enjoyed to travel across Europe and experience their young lives to the full? The stress this must be causing after 2 years of uncertainty so far is hard to comprehend.
Two years after that morning at Lourmarin market I am still to some extent in a state of shock and yes I do fear for the future if we continue lurching forwards (or in fact backwards) in the way that we are at the moment. There doesn’t appear to be a strategic plan other than ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and the daily posturing and bizarre game of ‘Soundbite Bingo’ that is just getting more and more extreme – the process seems to have lost sight of the people who are impacted by it and I fear that ultimately this will only compound the impact the process has on those who are most vulnerable from it.
Yes I accept Europe has its issues and no it’s not perfect, but I still cannot see any advantage from sitting outside it, surely it is better to be part of a positive change process than to watch it from afar with no say on the impact it will have on us in the future.
I head back to France soon and hope to do so for many years yet – I love the Country, the people, the region we have settled in and truly consider it a second home, rather than simply a holiday destination. I hope to be able to further develop my business as I spend more time there, perhaps having a stall at a market or holding more Expos of my work, but we shall have to wait and see what happens – only time will tell.
For now my bedroom in France is the place that sticks in my memory for where I was when I heard about the vote to Leave Europe and like the other events I mentioned at the top of this post sadly I know that it is a memory that will stay with me for years to come regardless of what happens over the coming months and years.