We can’t just stand by.

Brexit is taking an incredibly dark turn.

Oh my, I don’t even know how to begin. When I set up this blog I was hoping to make my posts at least fairly witty and fun, but I really don’t feel like joking anymore. The news this week has been incredibly bleak and ‘no deal’ still hasn’t been ruled out.

We learned that Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin has been intimidating workers into distributing pro-Brexit propaganda, while not being able to name a single EU law he disagrees with. We learned that many Brexiters who are running around shouting that we can simply trade on WTO rules have no idea what that actually means. In addition, it seems that a transition to WTO rules following a ‘no deal’ Brexit will by no means be straightforward. Speaking to The Guardian, a specialist in EU law has said that agreeing and ratifying trade deals with other countries could take up to 7 years. This would not only double food prices and send Britain into a recession that could last up to 30 years, but would mean we would not be able to import vital goods, such as medication, medical equipment, fuel and certain foods. Today, a number of leading British food retailers signed a letter that warned that a ‘no deal’ Brexit could cause serious food shortages.  You will also have heard about companies moving their operations elsewhere – jobs are already being lost due to Brexit and this is likely only the tip of the iceberg.

If that wasn’t enough, we have learned that martial law could be used in the case of civil unrest following a ‘no deal’ Brexit, which gives Parliament the power to ‘impose curfews, travel bans, confiscate property and deploy the armed forces‘. No, I honestly don’t feel like joking anymore, this is really serious.

Most of all I am terrified at how a nationalist ideology is taking priority over very the very real dangers and measurable disadvantages of leaving the EU (be that under no deal or Theresa May’s deal). The possibility of violence returning to Ireland doesn’t seem matter, food and medicine shortages don’t seem to matter, a recession and massive job losses don’t seem to matter to those selling the idea of ‘no deal’ Brexit as a quick and painless way out of the EU. I sympathise with those who voted for Brexit due to economic hardship and a belief that leaving the EU would address these issues. However, those pushing for ‘no deal’ whilst the dangers of this course of action are becoming clearer by the day are simply irresponsible.

I struggle to see how arguments for a ‘no deal’ Brexit are not underpinned by an agenda that seeks to keep migrants out at any cost. In the past week, the owner of a London restaurant who included the anti-Brexit message ‘Brexit is Bad. Immigrants are good for Britain‘ on their bills received death threats. A Polish newspaper editor was targeted with a xenophobic message, emblazoned ‘Migrants – Our country needs you to stay away’ and instances of abuse against EU nationals are on the rise. One of the nastiest side-effects of Brexit has been that it has given anti-migrant ideologies a much wider platform in this country, best illustrated by the airtime backbench MPs with xenophobic views such as Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson have been afforded by major broadcasters.

Aufstand der Anständigen

I think it is time to counter these sentiments peacefully, but vocally. Germany has coined the term “Aufstand der Anständigen” – the protest of decent people against racism and the far-right, and I think this is needed in Britain too. As rational reasons for leaving the EU are now few and far between, I believe we have to stop making apologies for those who are pushing a ‘no deal’ Brexit under the guise of wanting to help ordinary people. Brexit will exacerbate every single problem it promised to fix. 

Our public conversation has shifted noticeably to the right since the referendum and we can’t stand by and let this happen. Let’s say it as it is, the current discussion around Brexit is making EU migrants feel unwelcome in this country and hate crimes spiked after the referendum and have stayed on a high level ever since – this is deeply problematic.

As a society we have to stop being complacent and we have to stop excusing the scapegoating of migrants as a legitimate response to economic hardship. Instead we have to counter this narrative at every turn – it was not the EU and certainly not EU workers who created the division within Britain. This divide was manufactured by the Conservative party by needlessly calling a referendum on EU membership, while the Leave vote was fuelled by almost a decade of austerity and often dehumanising social policies.  These culminated in the Universal Credit benefit system, which was condemned by the United Nations as ‘punitive, mean-spirited and often callous’, alongside the warning that leaving the European Union ‘poses a particular risks for people in poverty, but the government appears to be treating this as an afterthought’.  Unfortunately, this sentiment seems to hold true as there were only 14 MPs present to discuss the UN report on poverty in Britain this January. Urgent social needs are not being addressed and I have no confidence that they will be following a chaotic Brexit. We have to vocally counter misinformation that lays the blame for British decline and social inequality with migrants or the EU and discuss in detail how these issues have been created domestically.

As you know, I support a People’s Vote, though this decision has not come easy to me. However, I do feel that it would give many people the opportunity to revaluate whether leaving the EU will remedy the issues they face, now that the facts are clear. For me, seeking a second referendum is by no means an attempt to prove Leave voters wrong, but to prevent an economic catastrophe that would further deepen the divides in our country.

I hate that I am publishing my political views online and I feel vulnerable, but the thought of staying quiet terrifies me even more. I don’t trust that the government is doing enough to stop a ‘no deal’ Brexit and I’m worried of the implications that even Theresa May’s deal would have. Starting this blog and talking to others who feel similarly has given me some hope and as a group we’ve already reached a lot of people. We can’t just stand by and enable a Tory Brexit that will make us poorer and more divided, take away rights that we’ve already been granted and make food insecurity a real issue for the whole country. Our right to express our concerns did not end in 2016, our voices on this still matter, let’s make them heard.

See my speech at the People’s Vote Rally in Manchester on Saturday below.


So you want a People’s Vote?

An instruction in the lost art of campaigning.

Let me tell you how I got here. After the EU referendum in 2016 I was devastated and deeply disappointed by what I perceived as a vote against migrants, and for a misplaced belief in British exceptionalism. However, at the time it seemed that the vote had been won democratically and I wasn’t going to argue with that. ‘Leave means leave’, we were told and I accepted that begrudgingly. I believed our politicians when they said they would negotiate a deal and though I expected some negative economic impact and mourned the right to free movement across Europe that had become a big part of how I myself and many of my friends imagined our futures, I thought that maybe, just maybe, it would be alright.

Then, last summer, questions over the legality of Leave campaign began to appear, challenging the validity of the referendum result. The Leave campaign breached its spending limits, reaching millions in the crucial last days before the vote, yet so far the government has refused to act on the illegality of ‘Vote Leave’. In addition, very real evidence came to light that Russia attempted to influence the referendum result. I began questioning if a vote for Brexit was in fact, ‘the will of the people’, but I also recognised how difficult and divisive it would be to reverse the result. For now it seemed, we were stuck with it.

I became worried when it became increasingly clear that the government deal that took two years to work out would be voted down in parliament (It was in fact resoundingly rejected). Panic set in in earnest when I realised that Theresa May’s strategy was to run down the clock, returning again and again with the same, minimally modified deal, while there was less consensus in parliament than ever. It seemed that the fronts were hardening between those who wanted to remain and those who just wanted to ‘get out’ and risk a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

Photo by Sam, Head of Communications at Dispatches from Brexit Britain

While some Brexiters think Britain will thrive under ‘no deal’, this is absolutely not based on fact. Slogans about ‘taking back control’ and putting ideology over the very real needs of the British people dominate the ‘no deal’ side of the argument.

The full consequences of ‘no deal’ are too vast and complicated to spell out here in detail, but just to give you a quick taste: It would trash the Good Friday agreement (there would have to be a hard border on the island of Ireland), the UK would revert to WTO trade rules meaning that we would have to pay much higher tariffs on trade with the EU, our largest trading partner. This would, without any doubt, mean that prices for goods will go up. In addition, there would be massive delays at our ports which means there is a very real chance of food, medicine and fuel shortages. Companies that invested in British branches and factories to access EU markets have already halted investment and moved some of their operations to other EU countries. Claiming that no jobs will be lost is therefore an outright lie. A ‘no deal’ Brexit will make us poorer. In addition, it will remove countless crucial protections, including environmental protections, workers’ rights (Equal pay in the UK – thank you, EU!) and social rights. Even if you believe there’s a left-wing case for Brexit, this will leave the current (or next!) Tory government free to dismantle these rights as they see fit.

Brexiters insist that new trade deals could be forged, yet I have very little confidence that this will be as straightforward as they claim, given our track record of negotiating. In addition, our social services and the NHS are already overstretched, people’s lives are already precarious, we can’t willingly plunge our country into a recession. We can’t afford ‘no deal’. Let me tell you this, from the bottom of my heart, I’m terrified, as ‘no deal’ is still currently the default and will come into effect on 29th March if no agreement is reached.

So now for the ray of hope. I’ve supported a People’s Vote since last summer and while it used to be portrayed as a bit of a lunatic fringe movement, if you’ve watched TV or read the news over the last few weeks it no longer seems that mad. Parliament is in deadlock and more and more MPs and political pundits have brought up the idea of a People’s Vote, not only to reach some kind of consensus, but also to work out what people actually wanted when they voted for Brexit. Then yesterday, a massive breakthrough as the Labour leadership significantly shifted its stance by calling for a vote on a second referendum in Parliament. This could actually happen.

It took me a good four months to spring into some kind of action. If you, like me, believe we need a second referendum, you don’t have quite as much time to get your arse into gear. There was a lot of complacency from people like me at the last referendum. I absolutely didn’t believe ‘Leave’ would win, I went to the ballot box, I cast my vote. Democratic duty done.

The time for hoping that things will just sort themselves out is over. This time, we have to mobilise, make our voices heard, spell out what EU membership means to us. Our politicians have to know, our friends and families have to know. We will not let Brexiters steal our futures, our adventures, our freedom.

To find out how to make an impact, I spoke to Helen Atkinson, Press Officer for Manchester for Europe and Stockport for Europe.

Here’s what you can do right now:

1.) Email your MP:

A second referendum is by no means a done deal yet. We need MPs to support this! So if you believe this is the way forward, email your MP. You can find your MPs email address here. You can write a personal message where you spell out your reasons, but some campaigns also offer templates (here and here). Keep emailing them as new developments come to light and tell your friends and family to do this if they believe a second referendum is the only way forward.

If your MP already supports a People’s Vote, message them to show support, even if you wouldn’t vote for their party. Conservative MPs Anna Soubry and Heidi Allen have been incredibly outspoken in their support for a People’s Vote. Everyone who wants to stop this nonsense is an ally.

2.) Join your local People’s Vote groups on facebook to find out whats going on.

For Manchester these are
Manchester for Europe: https://www.facebook.com/MCR4EU/
Stockport for Europe: https://www.facebook.com/Stockport4EU/

If you’re not in the Manchester area, a quick google search will do the trick, I promise!

3.) Join the Our Future, Our Choice campaign and For Our Future’s Sake campaigns. Both are campaigning for a People’s Vote, are aimed at young people and need volunteers!

4.) Get out and meet people. 26th January is a national People’s Vote day of action and there will be rallies and street stalls across the country. Join your local People’s Vote campaign and start winning hearts and minds! You have something to say on this and your voice important. You can find out what’s happening close to you here.

If you’re in Manchester, come to the People’s Vote rally at St. Peters Square on Saturday, 26th January from 2 – 4 pm. I’ll be speaking, so if nothing else, you can see me freaking out as I get crazy public speaking nerves. Here’s the event.

Finally, join us at ‘Not my Breakfast’! We’re having our first meeting at YES in Manchester tonight from 7 pm (22nd Jan). If you don’t feel like writing anything for the blog, that’s fine, just come along and discuss.

Also, we’ll be publishing more on how to get involved, posting useful updates on what’s going on and essays on what Europe means to us. If you find any of this useful, please share it with your friends!

Germany really wants us to stay

This made me cry.

A number of German politicians from across the political spectrum have signed a beautiful and hopeful letter to their British friends across the channel (published in The Times today, though behind a paywall). The right-wing press has continuously cast the EU as a hostile exterior force and Germany in particular has been vilified, so it’s crucial to listen to what the European member states are actually saying to the people of Britain. I got a hold of a copy of The Times, so you can read it for yourself in full:

Why a second referendum is now definitely the least shit option (…and might be the only way forward).

A realist’s guide to this week in British politics.

Bean, Head of Dreamies, at Dispatches from Brexit Britain

To my detriment, I’m an absolute media junkie. I usually don’t get out of bed before I’ve read every single article on the Guardian (yes, this is also a procrastination technique) and I’ve recently further stepped up my game turning my room into a 24-hour newsroom, BBC News blaring while I frantically google ‘Brexit News’. So after two solid days of listening to what feels like every interview given by every MP and every political pundit in the country, I can say with absolute certainty that no one has a clue what to do next.

To cut through the chatter, here are the current options and their obstacles.

Theresa May’s deal 

It’s dead (or ‘extinct’ as the Sun, always one for superlatives, lightheartedly quipped) having been defeated with a historic majority in parliament. It took two years to put together and it doesn’t look likely that it will get through another commons vote with just a few minor tweaks and reassurances. Theresa, as always, wants to renegotiate, but really there’s not much to renegotiate in cross-party talks or in Brussels as she isn’t budging on her red lines.

What’s Brussels saying? Given the red lines Theresa May laid down so early in the negotiations, this is the best deal we’re going to get from Brussels. Also, they’re frankly bemused because Britain can’t tell them what it actually wants. As Brussels has rightly pointed out, the EU 27 have spoken with one voice during this negotiation, while not even the Tory party could reach a consensus, as the no confidence vote tabled against her by her own party shows. (Seems like a distant memory now, but wasn’t that an exciting turn!)

Who feels hard done by? Everyone really, as both Leavers and Remainers opposed this deal. When the public was asked to choose between four different Brexit outcomes, just 12% thought the government’s deal was good. (This recent YouGov poll is really interesting!)

‘No deal’

It’s not really on the table, with a majority of MPs wanting to prevent a ‘No Deal’ Brexit and assuring business leaders this won’t happen, however, it’s also currently not off the table. As Brexiteers have pointed out while gleefully rubbing their hands, triggering Article 50 almost two years ago meant that the UK would exit the EU, with or without deal, on the 29th March 2019. Unless some course of action is taken, the default is leaving without a deal.  Article 50 will likely be extended ( I say this with trepidation in my voice), but given the track record of our government when it comes to things that will definitely not happen and then absolutely do (there will be no snap election, the meaningful vote will not be pulled…), there is every possibility that we might accidentally end up with no deal. This evening, Theresa May said it was impossible to rule it out. Whoops.

Who feels hard done by? Remainers, but also Leave voters who were promised that the trade negotiations with the EU would be straightforward and that there would, in fact, be some sort of ‘a deal’.

What’s Brussels saying? In a nutshell –  a ‘No Deal’ Brexit is a really really bad idea, but the EU have stepped up their contingency planning just in case we can’t get it together before the 29th March.

A soft Brexit (for example customs union/ Norway plus): 

“At last a compromise!” I hear you say. It sounds reasonable and Scandinavian, doesn’t it? Yes, a ‘Norway Plus Deal which keeps the UK in the European single-market would avert some of the immediate and long-term economic danger of a ‘no deal’ Brexit. However, it would also mean that the UK can’t have an independent trade policy and would still have to accept many EU rules, including abiding by the EU’s standards for health and safety, as well as environmental and social protection – god help us without the EU. The even greater sticking point is immigration, as a Norway style membership would keep freedom of movement, and we know how the Tories feel about that. Also, Theresa has ruled it out today so there’s that.

Who feels hard done by? ‘Leave means leave’ voters, Jacob Reese-Mogg, BoJo and Friends, as well as people who realise that if we’re doing Norway Plus, we might as well remain.

Labour’s plan for a no confidence vote and push for a general election

Basically, that didn’t work out the first time round and it’s unlikely to succeed in future. While the Tory party can’t unite to back any deal, they do want to stay in power and Theresa May will likely survive another confidence vote. Labour also need to clarify their position on Brexit, with 75% of Labour members backing a people’s vote and over 70 MPs supporting this option. Jeremy Corbyn told the Guardian he wants to go ahead with Brexit while a lot of his MPs disagree, so really the Labour party is just as messy and divided as the Tories.

Who feels hard done by? Labour supporters who were hoping for a general election, a win for Labour and a Labour-negotiated Brexit or People’s Vote.

A second referendum

Support for a second referendum is growing with 71 Labour MPs supporting a final say, while more than 170 business leaders publicly announced their support for this option. It seems common sense to give people the option to vote on the realities of Brexit, now that we actually know what this looks like and parliament seems in a hopeless deadlock. In a rare moment of clarity, even Jacob Reese-Mogg suggested this in 2011. He’s changed his mind now and both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn aren’t backing a second referendum, meaning that Labour members and MPs backing a second referendum really need to up their game.

What’s Brussels saying? Brussels have indicated that Article 50 could be extended to allow for a second referendum. Donald Tusk has even said the EU would be fine with cancelling Brexit. Really throughout all of this, like a kindly doctor about to perform life-changing surgery, Brussels have tried to let us know that actually, we don’t have to do this and it’s ok to change our minds.

Who feels hard done by? Naturally, Nigel and pals. Leave voters who are still convinced that Brexit is the right path for this country and are afraid to lose a second referendum. However, their numbers may be declining. Recent polls show that support for both a second referendum and staying in the EU have risen considerably.

The key argument I hear against a People’s Vote is that it would be divisive, but to be honest so is every other option we currently have. There is no clear plan from our government on how to proceed. At the same time, the clock is ticking and ‘no deal’ isn’t off the table yet. At the very least, a second referendum would give us an opportunity to interrogate that mythical ‘will of the people’ and work out what the people actually want. Now that the realities of Brexit are clear, informed consent is hardly a betrayal of democracy. 

Yep, it will be gruelling, yep everyone is fed up by Brexit, but the reality is that if we crash out on the 29th March without a deal there will be no more options to have our say. Similarly, accepting May’s deal will by no means end negotiations as the issue of the Irish backstop remains and no one really has a solution for that either.

If you support a people’s vote, now is the time to say so. Email your MPs and talk to people about this. Just as important is staying engaged. It’s so tempting to just look away and pretend this isn’t happening because it’s so complicated and so disheartening, but we have to keep watching what’s going on in Westminster and Brussels – our futures are being decided right now. 

Find out more about a People’s Vote here.

Conversations with our parents

Call your mum.

This week, I received a response to my first post from Roger, my friend Sam’s dad. He’s a retired civil engineer and his message shows why it’s so important to keep talking about how we feel about being European not just with our friends, but also with our family members and older relatives. Roger’s message shows what we have to gain by listening – He offers some real insight and I would love to ask him more about being in Berlin when the wall went up in 1961. I fully agree with his point that Brexit is a distraction from many of the social issues we desperately have to address. Roger’s message makes it clear that being part of the EU is not just an important part of identity for the younger generation, but for many who witnessed the first referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Economic Community in 1973 (with a 67% vote in favour of continued membership).  

You should probably call your mum anyway.

As HMS Brexit trundles slowly towards the iceberg, a People’s Vote is maybe more likely than ever (56% of British people now support staying in the EU, 17th Jan). That’s why we need to start having positive conversations about Europe now, not just with our peers, but also our family members and wider social circle.

If they feel the same, perfect! Commiserate together (this is how I spent my entire Christmas holidays at home), watch some May-Bot memes and write to your MPs. If you don’t agree – listen to what they have to say, but also lay out what being part of Europe means to you, which opportunities you feel you might miss out on and what you’re worried about. It might feel like a drop in the bucket, but we can all help to change the conversation.

Roger’s dispatch from Brexit Britain

So much of what has been written [in the original blog post] mirrors my own feelings. As a war baby and having a very clear memory of the physical destruction of parts of London and other UK cities I saw the EU as integral to avoiding another European bloodletting. So ideas of minimal borders, freedom to travel and work etc. seemed a wonderful and necessary part of a safer Europe. With the fall of the Berlin Wall ( I was in Berlin when it was going up) and the Iron Curtain, the necessity of adding more old democratic countries, which had been subsumed into the Soviet Union in the aftermath of World War II into the EU was a part of post war reconstruction (albeit delayed).

The period of Thatcherism here preceded globalism and had a huge impact on many old communities and skilled industries in the UK, so we were already were already destroying, shipbuilding, coal, steel, aircraft, furniture, textiles, fishing (aided by the EU in this case) and successive governments did nothing but-pander to “the market”. So there was a large number of deskilled and ignored communities who could see immigrants taking some of the houses and jobs they thought were theirs by rights. So along comes a group of people saying it’s all easy – just take back what’s yours – Jobs , skills, pride, – vote Leave. If I was one of them I would have too. What would I have to lose?

For me, the constitutional chaos [following the meaningful vote] is basically a burning emblem for the need for systemic change in our parliamentary system, which is clearly not fit for purpose in a rapidly changing world. Brexit itself is a giant, untimely distraction from the domestic policy areas that need to be completely overhauled and imbued with a more cohesive and progressive sense of investment in the future. Housing, health and social care, the NHS, education, transport – they’re all hugely, hugely dysfunctional and as such, this is hugely damaging. Might we grow back the State, in a genuinely innovate way and tackle these enormous problems holistically, rooted in compassion and not the search individual and corporate profit. I feel like whatever happens Europe-wise, the cat is out of the bag. More and more young people – some of whom were too young to vote in 2016, will not accept the status quo much longer.

So yes , it is a huge task to redress the balance. And leaving the EU won’t help, though change does liberate energy. The EU needs the unity of purpose – renewed and refreshed – like after the end of World War II, so it can help to respond to the gross inequalities unleashed by globalism, as well as dealing with our social needs, so that we as a country can meet our responsibilities to the rest of the world.

If the parliament can unite to agree to a people’s vote, it may be a People’s Vote can also reunite the people.

So where are we now? We have a disparate parliament united in in opposition to the May option but it will not unite on another solution other than either a general election [note: this message was received before the unsuccessful no confidence motion] or a request to the people to say which of the possible outcomes they want. This must include exit ‘no deal’, May deal and stay. You could even include other options like Norway type or Canada. If the parliament can unite to agree to a people’s vote, it may be a people’s vote can also reunite the people. Otherwise look at where parliaments at war with the executive have taken the English people in the past. The resurgence of Parliament as decision-taking rather than just legislating body could just be the boost democracy needs to make it more responsive to people. I am going to watch the spectacle from afar for the next few weeks.

[Roger is currently travelling Australia].

The message has been edited for clarity. If you have a Dispatch from Brexit Britain you’d like to share, email dispatchesfrombrexitbritain@gmail.com

Find out more about how to support a People’s Vote here.

Bring your laptops, bring your frustrations.

Ich moechte Teil einer Jugendbewegung sein…

The idea behind this blog is to give us a forum to document how we feel about Brexit. Many of us have become disengaged, battered by a seemingly never-ending news cycle and it’s easy to feel like our opinions don’t matter. Today, John Harris wrote an excellent article in the Guardian under the headline “A Nation ‘bored of Brexit’ risks sleepwalking into disaster”. I couldn’t agree more. Our stories matter, our voices matter, let’s make sure they’re heard.

Since publishing my very personal history of Europe yesterday, I have received lots of heartening messages from friends saying they want to get involved, so let’s do it. 

High Spirits at Dispatches from Brexit Britain HQ

I’m proposing a kick-off meeting at Yes! in Manchester next Tuesday at 7 pm. Everyone is welcome. Don’t worry if you don’t want to write, if you can draw, make collages, do web design, take photos, be cool on social media (unlike me), coordinate, or just want to have a pint and try to make sense of it all, this is the meeting for you. Let’s make some multi-media protest art, 21st century style.

If you can’t make it to the meeting but still want to get involved, you can email dispatchesfrombrexitbritain@gmail.com and I’ll be setting up a facebook group where we can coordinate.

I’m going to send you on your way with  a top German song from 1995 – Tocotronic’s “Ich moechte Teil einer Jugendbewegung sein” –  I want to be part of a youth movement!

On feeling European and not piping down

I grew up believing that everything would only get better. One year before I was born on a Royal Air Force Base in the West of Germany, the Berlin wall had fallen and my mother’s country seemed poised on the brink of a bright new future. With a British father in the RAF and a German mother, born to refugees displaced after the end of World War II, my personal history always seemed intertwined with not only the turmoil of the war, but also with the Cold War that followed. I was the third child on my father’s side of the family to be born at RAF Brugge, which had become active in 1953 following the rapid expansion of NATO forces in Europe, while my mother received parcels with toys from distant relatives behind the Iron Curtain. Our beloved Sandmännchen doll had come from the GDR I was told as a child, the memory of a divided Germany still looming, but somehow already unimaginable.


The author, refusing to pipe down and sink with HMS Brexit.

Although I had no inkling of who Francis Fukuyama was, it seemed that throughout my early childhood and adolescence I had unwittingly subscribed to his interpretation that by the 1990s we had reached “the end of history”. The fall of the Iron Curtain signalled the triumph of Western liberal democracy, the natural endpoint of humanity’s social and political evolution. As a child, this seemed to make sense to me. I read voraciously on the history of World War II, consuming book after book hardly appropriate for my age, but I was drawn to these histories by a need to understand my country’s dark past. Above all, I was driven by a desire to reassure myself this could never happen again. I would search for signs that meant that history could never slide into that same direction, pointing out to myself how exceptional the circumstances were back then, distant and archaic, how adults had learned from their mistakes, how the past was the past, never to be repeated. Things would only get better.

Overall, my personal history seemed to confirm this. My parents’ parents had been enemies during the war and when my mother and father fell in love in the early 1980s, driven by my father’s desire to learn German to better understand his Wagner operas, these rifts had not yet fully healed. I understood, when I watched the Fawlty Towers episode ‘the Germans’ as an eight year old (due to a lack of age-appropriate videos at my grandparents’ house in Aylesbury), that my parents’ love was somehow remarkable in that it had, in its own very small way, bridged a divide between two countries. As a History PhD researcher, these transnational exchanges on the micro- and macro-level are my key research interest. In my study of homosexuality in postwar Britain I track currents of people and ideas, seeking to understand how processes of cultural exchange contributed to social progress. My parents’ love to me seemed to capture a spirit of transnational friendship and cooperation and of a Europe growing closer together.

Indeed, I myself felt in a very real way a child of two nations. I was living in Germany, but partaking in British culture in whatever small way I could, from reading Jaquelin Wilson novels, watching British property shows (which I now despise as a harbinger of the broken UK buy-to-let market) on the BBC World Service and writing my own Fawlty Towers play to be performed on the 1st of January 2000 to ring in the new millennium.

As a teenager, I was excited by European integration. I remember receiving a set of new Euro coins, all of the children in my class crowding round to see our new currency. Exchange and cooperation between nations seemed to point the way forward. I became more accustomed with my neighbouring European nations, crossing borders without needing to produce a passport, spending holidays in France and Italy where I felt proud that I had a gained a deep familiarity with these places and spoke their languages, shapeshifting effortlessly as a European citizen. Naively, I was still driven by a belief that we were set on a route towards progress. If there were any rights that hadn’t yet been granted to those deserving them it was only a matter of time. It was a given that the European project would continue and that, for all its faults, it offered European countries protection from rampant globalising forces and offered its citizens relative freedom and prosperity in an increasingly unstable world.

In my early twenties the UK seemed to exert an almost inescapable pull over me. I was drawn to the fascinating research being undertaken at Manchester University, the British sense of humour, multiculturalism, the wonderful and exciting art and music scene and above all, after 23-years of living in Germany and Switzerland, I wanted to live in the country which I had so carefully watched from afar.

I arrived in Manchester in August 2013 and in the past five years I have seen poverty spread and divides widen. I have seen the far-right rear its head and refer to refugees using a language I had thought unthinkable in a postwar European setting. The financial crisis and ensuing decade of austerity deeply hurt the country with vital services being scaled back throughout the country and the poor increasingly being marginalised, wages being frozen while living costs rose, which saw even working families relying on foodbanks. Despite my own privileged position and education, things started to feel more and more precarious as I watched many of my talented and well-educated friends struggle to make ends meet on zero hour contracts which left them without pay when they were ill and let go with only a days’ notice.

Homelessness in Manchester used to be confined to the city centre but it crept outwards continually, until the small suburb where I live saw a significant rise in its homeless population and in autumn a homeless man was living on our door step. A UN report stated that the UK benefits system was ‘punitive, mean-spirited and often callous’ – no wonder people voted for Brexit in protest of the political establishment. I stopped believing things would get better and as a historian, I became deeply concerned as I recognized patterns of political polarization that had accompanied Chancellor Brüning’s austerity policy in 1930s Germany. The centre, it seemed, was beginning to slip out from under us, society was dividing.
I was deeply disheartened by the Brexit vote, which I perceived as a vote against the spirit of cooperation and kinship that I valued so deeply.

Migrants had been made the scapegoat of ten years of Conservative austerity policy and the EU, which had afforded me so much hope and freedom, was cast as a hostile exterior force. Now I am even more disheartened at how the process is being carried out with the political class prioritising the survival of their own parties, the public being kept in the dark and purposefully misinformed. With none of the fanciful promised made of Brexit set to be delivered and ‘no deal’ plans being hashed out, which are as costly as they will be ineffective, I can only agree with former attorney general Dominic Grieve who claimed that Brexit was akin to committing ‘national suicide’. When I moved to Britain in 2013, I did not think we would keep troops on standby, stockpiling canned food and medicine and allocating £2 billion to prepare for the country crashing out of the EU five years later. I cannot help but feel we are at a point in history where crisis looms, blaring from the front page of every newspaper and future generations will struggle to understand why those in power did nothing to stop it.

In the past few months, Brexit has become an obsession for me and I realise that in attempting to unpick my own identity through the lens of Europe, something vital to me is about to be irrevocably lost. The foundations of my worldview have become undone and I feel a constant undercurrent of anxiety that has nothing to do with my own failings and successes. Instead I no longer feel that the country in which I have made my home is stable and dependable.

As a historian, I believe we have to document. I have learned that personal stories which are entwined with broader political and social currents matter and that they can help us make sense of what happened and what it was like to ‘really be there’. As citizens, I believe we have a responsibility to be watchful and to speak out at the sight of injustice and I believe what is currently happening in Britain is an injustice. It is a betrayal of those left behind, who were sold an anti-establishment dream by the very elites who are most out of touch. Now we are being further deceived as politicians try to achieve Brexit at any cost, even though they know the irreparable damage this will do to our economy, our global standing, even our ability to fight crime.

I can’t propose a decisive way forward. Personally, I support a People’s Vote in the hope that some of the immediate danger to our country can be averted, but I also sympathise with those who are weary of this path. I am also deeply troubled by the divisions that will remain. I wish our government would allocate funds so readily to the crisis facing our poorest and our underfunded NHS and social services, rather than pouring it into the ‘no-deal’ contingency plan it seems to have foolishly manoeuvred itself into. However, I do think it is important that we do not disengage from the political process. That we don’t obediently pipe down just because we are told that Brexit was ‘the will of the people’.

If there is in fact a second referendum, we have to make our voices heard. We have to search for what being part of Europe means to us and we have to remember the friendships, love stories and great adventures that were enabled by our membership in the EU. As a baby of European integration, it’s something I deeply believe in.