Martha wakes up, gives me a big hug and says “I love you, Mummy.” Rosa asks for pink nail varnish on her toes as she’s just seen me touching up my own for a work night out later on. They don’t understand why Matt and I are feeling unsettled this morning, talking politics and reeling at the news I discovered when I checked my phone at 5.20am and saw “Britain votes for Brexit” appear on the screen.
It was pretty hard to go back to sleep after that. What are the ramifications of this momentous decision – for our jobs, our life, our country? How can our thoughts and beliefs be so out of touch with over half of the population? I am shocked, angry, disappointed. I don’t blame any of the Leave voters – many are people that feel disenfranchised by politics, threatened by immigration, ignored by the elites as they struggle with the policies of austerity and an increasingly London-centric worldview. I agree with them in many ways; the political and economic world we live in is not one I’m happy with either, but as one of my friends posted on social media earlier I feel that this result is the wrong answer to the wrong question. It hasn’t really been about Europe at all, just two fingers up to those in power who have ignored the concerns of so many people for so long.
In some ways, I’m in awe of the democracy of the vote; it has given people a voice in a way that our First Past the Post electoral system never has. The people have spoken and made their decision. But with 48% voting in opposition to Brexit (74% in my city and 75% of under-24s) how can we prevent our country being divided so starkly? How can we move on to a new system of government which preserves many of the good aspects of EU influence: the motivation to protect our environment, improve workers’ rights and work to tackle the big 21st century problems of climate change, inequality, food and fuel security, global terrorism and mass migration?
And that last issue is one that seems to have become synonymous with this referendum and many people’s reason for voting as they did. I don’t think anyone believes that there shouldn’t be some controls on immigration in this country, but I would also like to belong to a country with a welcoming outlook on the world: a compassionate approach to refugees fleeing war and terrorism, an open invite to those who wish to study (on valuable paid-for courses) in our world-renowed centres of education and a collaborative perspective on those who come to work here, pay taxes and call this place home. I have many colleagues who are EU nationals; some have been here for 20 years or more, have married and had children here but now feel unwelcome and scared about their futures. I’m scared too, because I’m not sure what the future holds. I want it to be a positive step forward to a fairer country, one that remains open to trade with and influence the world in a spirit of hope and justice, but I’m fearful that it might become an insular, selfish island instead, one that blindly protects our own interests without caring how that impacts on the world at large. But for now, like everyone else, I must wait and hope and do what I can to contribute to the country and world I’d like to live in. The time for grieving is over, the time for action begins.