So it actually happened…

2 weeks ago today, Brexit actually was not far off becoming a reality. Staying up on the evening of the 23rd June to see the first result come in, I wasn’t really sure what I was going to wake up to on the 24th. The final poll I looked over earlier that afternoon suggested that Remain was in favour to win, albeit narrowly. The results from Gibraltar came in at 96% Remain, which was to be expected, but as Newcastle’s results came in just after midnight, Remain’s lead was not as high as hoped. This didn’t look good. If expected Remain strongholds were coming in lower than expected already, Remain seemed to be losing ground early on, and the counting had only just begun. With work the next day, I couldn’t pull an all-nighter, so I set my alarm for 6am – an hour before the official result was expected – and settled in for the night.

Waking at 5.30am, my mind obviously sensed I was going to need a little more time to get ready for work based on the news we were waking to. Reaching out to check my phone, my boyfriend was already 2 steps ahead – ‘Do you want to know the answer?’ I thought I already had the verdict, but I wasn’t 100%. ‘I think I know’. Opening the laptop to get the live coverage of the results, confirmed what we thought we knew. I was in total shock. Leave had essentially won, and in a hour that would be official.

Never have I felt such a reaction to the result of an election – my stomach dropped. I was in complete shock. I always knew it would be close, and at 52%/48% it was, but I had hoped those final polls would be right and that Remain would edge a small victory. I was expecting us to have to come to terms with an almost 50/50 split of the electorate, as per my last post before the referendum, but still, the shock that the result was in and official hung over me all of Friday, the weekend, and to a certain extent, it continues to do so now.

I guess this isn’t exactly a unique story. In fact, the shock and surprise we have seen over the past two weeks only highlights how no one really thought it would happen. It seems Boris Johnson chanced his arm on the Leave side. He could then sweep in, become MP and toe the Eurosceptic line, or whatever line he had decided on for that week. It seems as if the entire Leave campaign was in shock that they actually won, as demonstrated by their complete lack of a plan since the results came in. Yet it also seems the Remain campaign was also in a similar position.

I was never a fan of the official Remain campaign’s efforts, if I am honest – I agreed with them, of course, but I really think they missed the mark in making a great case for the Remain side. In fact, I actually unsubscribed from their mailing list a couple of weeks before the referendum because their emails were so uninspired in the lead up to polling day. The campaign failed to capture the minds of the public, too focused on the economics behind the vote to Remain. The official StrongerIn campaign failed to convince and compel, and certainly could have been stronger in its message.

It has been a busy couple of weeks since the results came in. We have seen David Cameron, Boris Johnson, many shadow ministers, and now Nigel Farage quit their respective positions. The contest for leadership of the Conservative party continues, the UKIP contest will soon start, and then there are the actual negotiations with the European Union and the triggering of Article 50. Added to this, we see Sinn Fein calling for a discussion on a United Ireland, Nicola Sturgeon opening up debate on the future of Scotland, and even Wales questioning its role in the UK. Gibraltar is also left wondering where it stands now, as are the 48% who voted Remain, and lost by 4%. The EU citizens living in the UK, and the UK citizens living in the EU, including myself, are wondering where they stand too. The results have opened up a rift in the UK – a deep chasm has formed – a lot of the pressures were, of course, there before the referendum, and I assume whichever way the result went, it was always going to widen. There are many, many unanswered questions and the future is uncertain right now. We need to work together to find solutions, and to minimise adverse impacts across the board. The increase in racial attacks needs to be bought under control immediately, as this referendum cannot be seen to legitimise racism that has been boiling under the surface.

I am very disappointed in the result. I feel distanced from ‘home’, and I certainly don’t feel proud.

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Europe on a turning point?

 

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2016 has been a busy year for member states of the EU, and it doesn’t look like it is going to calm down any time soon. Austria recently voted for their new president (a largely ceremonial role), but with 0.6% between the winning independent/former Green Party candidate Van der Bellen (50.3%) and far-right FPÖ (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs – Austrian Freedom Party) Hofer (49.7%), the election was too close to call until the postal votes were counted. While we can rejoice at the fact that Austria will not have Hofer, a man who carries a gun for ‘protection’ due to increased migration and threatened to use the (limited) powers he would have had as president to their full extent by potentially dissolving parliament, we must also consider the fact that 49.7% of the Austrian electorate voted for him. The country was quite literally divided down the middle, and while Van der Bellen may have secured the role in the end, we cannot ignore the fact that such huge numbers supported, and continue to support Hofer’s ideologies.

The Austrian presidential election isn’t the start however, and it certainly isn’t the end either. Europe has been seeing a shift – some might say a lurch – to the right recently. In Germany, AfD (Alternative für Deutschland – Alternative for Germany) received 24.3% of the vote in the local elections (2016) in Saxony-Anhalt, 15.1% in Baden Württemberg and 12.6% in the Rheinland-Palatinate. Their membership numbers continue to rise and currently stand at around 20,000 – this is all for a party that was formed in 2013 on a largely EU-sceptic message. Since then the AfD has turned ever more to the right, as seen in their most recent manifesto and its outward islamophobia.

This year has also seen Sweden and Denmark reintroduce border controls in response to the migrant crisis, while Denmark  also approved policy to seize belongings from migrants entering the country over the value of 10,000 DKK (around €1,344). The Dansk Folkeparti (Danish People’s Party) grew to be the second largest in last year’s election, jumping from 12% to 21% over the period of just four years, while in Sweden the Sverigedemokraterna (Sweden Democrats) recently polled at 24.5%, making it the largest party in the country. Like the AfD and the FPÖ, they both oppose immigration and multiculturalism in their respective countries. The UK has seen similar with the somewhat slower success of UKIP (UK Independence Party) toeing a similar party line to the above mentioned parties. The fear of immigration has largely dominated the campaign leaflets, slogans and speeches in the build up to the UK’s EU membership referendum tomorrow (23rd June). Across the Channel, France has seen the steady rise of Marine Le Pen of the Front National, while the Netherlands has Geert Wilder of the Partij Voor De Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) spreading a similar message of intolerance, ignorance and a desire to look after ones ‘own’ before others. 

Tomorrow is a big day for the UK, its closest neighbours, the EU and in all honesty, the world. The campaign has been vicious – focusing on immigration, the economy and… immigration. The EU is by no means perfect, but to throw our toys out of the pram when the going gets tough is hardly the answer, nor a solution. The Leave campaign seems to be plagued by an old world view of the UK and its former empire. Like Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’, there is a harking back to a time that for some were the ‘glory days’ – the days when the sun never set on the British Empire. Personally, I am of the opinion that colonialism isn’t something to be celebrated, but for others it seems to be a tough pill to swallow that the UK cannot bark orders as part of a union (as a side note, it seems to be forgotten that while the EU is a union, the UK plays a heavy role in the decision making process and continues to carry substantial weight behind it as a key player). I certainly hope that Friday brings the news of a vote to remain in the EU – it would be sad to see the UK turn its back on the EU as a project, and as a union.

Sadder still is the prospect of further exit referenda in the near future – if the UK does decide to leave, it will place the future of the EU as a whole on thin ice at a time when all member states need to pull together. Alongside the rise of right wing parties across many member states, we face an interesting chapter in the as-yet-unwritten future of Europe.

(I do not own the rights to this image)