Brexit through the Gift Shop | Coming of Age in a Divided Europe (Pt. I)
I’m going to start by setting the scene.
It’s June 23rd, 2016 — the eve the United Kingdom’s historic vote on whether or not to withdraw from the European Union; a cultural institution of which Britain has played a part for the past 43 years.
A metropolitan chorus hums around me as I’m sitting at a bar on Leidseplein, one of the many touristic hearts beating throughout the city of Amsterdam, capital of the Netherlands. A pleasant warmth clings to the air; it’s the kind of atmosphere which can only be found radiating off of a packed city on a summer’s evening.
I’m accompanied by four of my closest friends and spirits are high; it’s the third night of ‘tour’ — a classically British title for a rite celebrating the conclusion of our studies at the University of Birmingham: five English lads crammed into a beat-up Vauxhall Corsa gallivanting around Europe.
(The picture above was taken upon our arrival in Dunkirk; the site of another rather famous British exit from Europe).
We had been discussing the potential of a Brexit-win all day; specifically, it’s impact on the European motorists passing by our Corsa, which was flying a rear window-consuming English flag as we drove across the continent (flag pictured above — leave it to the English to spell out ‘ENGLAND’ in case that wasn’t clear).
“The Brexit campaign has just conceded” one of my friends casually mentions.
This adds a sense of relief to an already jovial evening. Sitting at that bar, the gateways of Europe open before us, we couldn’t help but feel part of something greater than ourselves.
We saunter back to our hostel in the early hours, content that the order of our world had been maintained.
And then we woke up.
A Brexit Hangover
On the 23rd of June 2016 the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, ending a relationship spanning decades; an idealistic partnership forged in the dying embers of the crucible that was World War II, intended to cement inter-European economic and diplomatic stability.
safe to say, after that night, we didn’t leave the flag flying in the car when we left it parked. I will never forget the words “Brexit actually won” as they were flung from my friend’s mouth whilst we all sat stunned in our Amsterdam accommodation.
I’m sure by now, you’ve gotten the impression that I’m stalwartly pro EU, and perhaps I am — it’s hard not to be when, for two years & a half years, I lived in Malaga, Spain; employed as part of an office comprising over 15 different nationalities, the majority European, who represent some of the most intelligent, charismatic and all-round inspirational people I’ve been lucky enough to call both my colleagues and friends.
More personally, I hold a guiding ideology that organisations such as the European Union represent humanity’s best chance of unification on a global stage. Contributing to this slightly fervent belief of mine is the value I place in making meaningful, lasting connections with people from all walks of life — an opportunity I’ve been afforded having been based out of Spain.
This wasn’t always the case however. Prior to the historic vote of June 23rd, I changed my position on Brexit — three times, for that matter. Thanks to a number of lengthy discussions with my British friends, equally as inspirational as their European counterparts, my mind was made up in time; I am a proud remain voter.
The point I wish to illustrate by confessing this turn cloak behaviour is that, at differing moments, my loyalties have rested in both camps and I have empathised with both sides. This article doesn’t aim to pick one of those sides, rather, to contextualise my feelings on the debate, given my experiences for two & a half years as a Malaga based expat, and that I hold equal pride in being both British and European, something I refuse to believe is mutually exclusive.
“Brexit through the Gift Shop | Coming of Age in a Divided Europe” is the first of a four part article I’ll be releasing this week revolving a variety of topics relating to the UK, Europe and Brexit. Tune in tomorrow for part II: “British to the Bone”.