Brexiteers will be celebrating the UK’s departure from the EU this evening with considerable fanfare. There will be a light show in Downing Street, featuring a clock face counting down the minutes until 11pm –midnight Brussels time– when the country leaves with a withdrawal deal. Union Jack flags will fly in parliament square and a 50p commemorative coin will go into circulation, bearing the words “Peace, Prosperity and Friendship with all nations.”
The cost of the celebration will be paid for by the taxpayer, something that is bound to outrage the 48% of voters who voted to remain in the EU. If ardent Brexiteers had had their way, Big Ben, the most iconic timepiece in the world, would have marked the exit from the UE, as it did to commemorate the end of and the 100th anniversary of World War One, but that was not possible because the clock is being restored. To have got the clock chime mechanism working in time would have cost an estimated €500,000. In many ways Brexit feels like another war, with its victors and the defeated.
In Spain, most of the 295,000 registered Britons including myself, the largest ex-pat community in the EU, will be feeling a sense of loss, except those strange people who benefited from the bloc’s freedom of movement and other advantages to make their home in Spain and work and yet still voted to leave the EU, which is a bit like shooting yourself in the foot.
Disenfranchised (those of us who have lived out of the UK for more than 15 years), we have watched the ugly spectacle of Brexit unfold since the referendum in 2016 in which we were barred from voting. No one knows for sure but had all the 1.2 million Brits over the age of 18 in the EU been able to vote, the result of the referendum might have gone the other way.
As it was, the referendum gave a narrow victory to those in favour of leaving the EU, dividing families (usually grandparents voting to leave and grandchildren to stay in the EU), mine included, and creating the bitterest debates in the UK parliament in my living memory (I was born in 1951), while at the same time showing the strength of the country’s parliamentary democracy as some MPs did their utmost to hold the government to account.
Deciding such a complex issue as leaving an economic and political bloc after 47 years on the basis of a binary question and without a safeguard of a threshold (for example, a 60% ‘yes’ vote) was madness. The campaign of lies by demagogic politicians in favour of leaving the EU, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a man proven to be partial with the truth, at the forefront, was a disgrace. The UK, the home of fair play, succumbed to the xenophobia, jingoism and classism of the social and political elites that plague other European countries.
I had publicly vowed two months before the Brexit referendum in June 2016 to seek Spanish nationality if the UK voted to leave the UK. Three and a half years later, I have done nothing about this, partly out of laziness, partly because of the bureaucratic paperwork involved and partly because it can take up to a ridiculous three years for the nationality to be approved, and by that time who knows if I will still be around to enjoy it. Also, after living in Spain since 1986, paying taxes and social security since then (and due to receive my Spanish pension whenever I decide to retire), and holder of the green ID document which says “EU resident with permanent character in Spain” I, and those in the same position as me, do not believe the Spanish authorities are going to ask us to leave the country.
Understandably, after more than three years of Brexit wrangling, even those who voted to remain in the EU want to move on, but the issue is far from being out of the news. The average Brit does not know that the hardest and most technical part begins now during the transition period.
The UK wants to agree by the end of the year as much access as possible for its goods and services to the EU, without staying in the customs union and the single market and ending the overall jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. It wishes to have the freedom to diverge from EU rules so it can do deals with other countries, while the overriding concern for the EU will be to ensure a level playing field in order to prevent the UK from undercutting the bloc to gain an economic advantage.
Johnson, forever posing as a tough guy, ruled out extending the 11-month transition period beyond the end of the year even before the talks began. Few experts including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen believe there is enough time to reach an agreement.
Mourning the loss of a loved one is normal and cathartic, and something that all of us go through at one time or another. One can also grieve the loss of a country, even though one still holds the passport of that country. This grief is not clinical, but it is still a loss, the loss of what we know, the country we felt we knew and the loss of a community we thought we belonged to –which was the European community and the values it represents.