Friday 13th December 2019 was a nightmare come true. The result of the Brexit election isn’t just unlucky for British citizens living in the EU – it’s unlucky for the whole UK.
When the results of the exit poll emerged on Thursday at 10pm, the shock and despair amongst Brits across Europe was palpable. The expectation had been for a hung parliament or a close result. Last week, there was increasing optimism that the government would fall or be returned with no working majority. On election day, we hoped that tactical voting would stop Boris Johnson in his tracks.
Instead, not only did Johnson prevail but the scale of his win was staggering.
The emotions of Brits in Spain are reminiscent of how we felt on the morning of June 24th 2016. A combination of anger, incredulity, sadness and hopelessness may last awhile. A question from many of us is: “Where does that leave us now?”
Naturally, many people will be considering their individual circumstances and what they stand to lose through Brexit. Many will be thinking of their children, grandchildren, family in the UK and the loss of future opportunities that Brexit would steal.
As we watched events unfold on Thursday night, there were two common reactions. The first was a commitment to apply for Spanish citizenship. The second was a desire to cut any remaining emotional ties with the UK. After all, for almost four years, the UK has washed its hands of British citizens overseas – maybe it’s time to return the favour.
Over the coming weeks, the analysis of the Brexit election will start in earnest. Fingers will be pointed, blame will be apportioned. The Tories will crow, the Remainers will cry. Johnson has already claimed “a powerful mandate” from the country to deliver his hard, perhaps no-deal Brexit. He will make it sound easy. It won’t be.
A main factor determining the election outcome was the clear success of the government’s “get Brexit done” campaign. This tactic appealed to the public’s boredom and frustration with Brexit and parliament – perhaps the only political message that resonated with both Leave and Remain voters alike. This is ironic, considering it’s the biggest lie of the entire election.
Even if we ‘leave’ the EU on January 31st, as Johnson intends, Brexit will be far from done. Our rights will remain for the time being, we’ll be in transition, and nothing will change – except perhaps the public mood. The EU has warned that negotiating a trade deal will take years and is not possible by the end of 2020, despite the prime minister’s claims.
We can expect a honeymoon period for the new government, but it cannot last. Johnson’s inability to deliver will become blindingly obvious. The niggling issues that Johnson swept under the rug until the election was over – such as the Russian report and the Arcuri scandal – will re-emerge. The deceptions, fake news and outright lies told by the Conservative party deserve more exposure and criticism. The mainstream media must also share some of the responsibility.
After the 2016 referendum, I felt much as I do now. The referendum was a political awakening for me, but it took a while to happen. I spent three weeks grieving and being angry before I woke up and decided to act. I cannot afford to take three weeks now.
Whatever my actions, it won’t change the election result but that doesn’t mean this fight is over. I will not stand by and watch the most right-wing, extremist government in my lifetime take over the country that used to inspire pride in me. I won’t stand by while lies, dirty tricks, xenophobia and lack of compassion become the new norm in British politics. Nor will I sit back and watch the NHS being sold to the highest bidder, homelessness increase, or more British children growing up in poverty.
Johnson said on Friday that he “genuinely speaks for every part of the country”. I assume by “country”, he means England. Whatever he claims, he does not – and will never – speak for me.
By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain