It’s just over six weeks until the UK is scheduled to leave the European Union. Whether our Government will manage to agree a deal on our departure, though, or whether we’ll just ‘crash out’ without a deal (or, indeed, whether we’ll decide to not leave at all, or to not leave quite yet, or to have a second referendum, or perhaps to have another general election) remains to be seen. It’s all a bit of a mess. And it’s making me quite cross. But what angers me most is not the act of leaving, but rather the mess that this whole sorry affair has made of our country.
While I’ve travelled around the world a fair bit, and have lived and worked in various countries, I’ve always been a bit proud to be British. Not in a flag-waving, union-jack-suit-wearing, all-foreigners-are-nitwits kind of way. But just secretly delighted that I had the good fortune to be born on this little island. This island of Shakespeare, Winston Churchill, the craggy tors of Dartmoor, the golden beaches of Cornwall, all of Scotland, the RNLI, our Mountain Rescue teams, fair play, polite queuing, the Royal Marines and the SAS.
We are small geographically and kind of on the edge of things continentally, and we have a bit of a chequered past in terms of our treatment of our former colonies, but we’ve always been a country that could be relied on. A country that had its act together. A country upon which you could call when you needed some advice or when the chips were down. A country with a listening ear, a big heart and a strong sense of right and wrong. Oh, and a functioning government.
But that has all changed. Because the EU referendum in 2016 ripped our country apart. It dugs its way into smouldering – but eminently fixable – divisions in our society and tore them asunder. And rather than trying to stitch everything back together, we seem to delight in making things even worse.
Our elected leaders (with a few honourable exceptions) sling mud at each other, promote their own cynical interests, blame everyone but themselves for their abject failure to behave like grown ups, and make increasingly bizarre claims about the utopian future that awaits us outside the European Union. The media treat Brexit like the headline-generating golden goose that it is, while seemingly forgetting that it’s our future that’s at stake. And as individuals we just suck it all up and pretend it’s normal.
Well, it’s not normal. This is not how things are supposed to happen here. And this is not how we are supposed to behave. It’s not big, it’s not funny and it’s definitely not British.
If we decide we want to leave the European Union, fine. I’m not personally that keen to leave, though I admit that the EU is far from perfect and I suspect that we could find a way of prospering after our departure. But only if we go about things like fully-functioning adults, rather than the petulent, small-minded, divorced-from-reality numpties that we currently seem to take delight in being.
We used to be seen as the voice of reason in global affairs. The people that everyone wanted to have on their side. Now, we’re a laughing stock. A punchline. A cautionary tale.
This is not, though, who we really are. It is simply who we have let ourselves become. I know and meet lots of people, some who voted to remain and some who voted to leave. None of them are stupid. None of them are idiots. None of them want to see the world burn. They’re just normal people trying to look after their families and to make their way in these turbulent times. While their country disintegrates around them.
And this is why I am angry. Because the country I love is falling apart. And far too few people seem to want to do anything about it. I blame our politicians, of course, for putting party and personal agendas before country. I blame the lacklustre campaign to remain and the mendacious campaign to leave. I blame those who have sought to divide our country to further their own interests. I blame the media for treating the whole thing like a funfair. I blame those around me for not doing more to put things right. And I blame myself for trusting that others would do what is needed to heal the rifts that divide us.
I grieve for what we have lost. But I know that the spark of what we once were still burns brightly somewhere in the wreckage. And I remain hopeful that we can work together to rebuild what we once had. Because I’m angry. And I’m not going to sit on the sidelines any longer. I want my country back.