The Brexit vote was always going to be a special one for me. This being my 15th year as a British expat living in Copenhagen, it was my final chance to vote in a British election.
More bereaved than peeved
As things turned out, my postal voting slip never arrived. I would have voted ‘Remain.’ The win by the Leave camp felt like a bereavement.
Fortunately, I had a trip back to England scheduled for the week after the vote, providing a welcome opportunity to discuss what had happened with my fellow Englishmen. This trip taught me two things.
Crossing the divide
Firstly, I was not the only Brit to feel a deep emotional impact following the vote. Whilst in London (which of course voted overwhelmingly to Remain) the feeling of being ‘in mourning’ was something I heard on several occasions.
Meanwhile, up in the East Midlands (which voted overwhelmingly to Leave), families were being torn apart by arguments over who had voted which way. Some of the Leavers I spoke to said they were keeping their votes private for fear of being castigated as racists or bigots – which they clearly weren’t.
Lost faith in politicians
The second was that both sides had exactly the same criticism of the politicians running the respective campaigns: “they lied”. There was palpable fury as to the way the referendum campaign was co-ordinated.
One side prophesised financial Armageddon and a ‘punishment budget’ (neither of which have materialised), while the other made promises regarding immigration and NHS funding (which have already been retracted).The feeling of betrayal by politicians was common amongst everyone I spoke to.
Rudyard Kipling wrote the following in the aftermath of World War One about “a Dead Statesman”: “I could not dig: I dared not rob: / Therefore I lied to please the mob. / Now all my lies are proved untrue / And I must face the men I slew. / What tale shall serve me here among / Mine angry and defrauded young?”
These lines seem eerily prescient of our current predicament. Whatever tales are told in the coming weeks and months by our politicians, regaining the trust of a disillusioned populace is vital not just for Britain, but for Europe as a whole. Let’s hope they’re up to the task.