The fact, that you are finally leaving the EU grieves me deeply. I have been travelling to the beautiful British Isles 30 times within 40 years, and I’ve always felt very welcome. I’ve made many new friends on my motorbike trips, stayed at your places or welcomed you at my home in Vaals. Only one of you favoured a Brexit, the rest opposed it and might now end up as victims – like me and the people of the remaining EU countries.
Without intention my last trip to the UK led me to the very regions which were decisive for the Brexit. Starting at York I was traveling through the breathtaking beauty of the Yorkshire Dales, Cumbria, Wales and the Midlands. My tour was scheduled to end after the referendum, but due to nasty weather it ended right on referendum day.
Lying in the gras at the Museum Gardens in York I was talking with a local student about the risk of a Brexit. He didn’t see any, since all opinion polls were dead certain at that time: A clear majority against Brexit. Same for Trump. No chance that he might get elected. Now we all know better, and we should ask ourselves: Who is standing behind opinion polls?
I’ve met many nice and well informed people in the pubs along my way, and most of them were confident Remainers. Many of them didn’t even want to attend the referendum, since it’s outcome seems so perfectly clear. What I’ve heard was reassuring, but on my 1200 mile journey I only saw one “stay” sign of the Green Party – and I saw thousands of red “vote leave” signs which started to make me nervous. What if an old German motorbiker standing in a pub door smoking only attracts cosmopolitan people for a chat? What if Brexiters can’t afford a beer in a pub or a stay on a campsite?
On my final day on a campsite at Chipping Norton I’ve had my first unpleasant experience in the UK within 40 years. I don’t know if the warden of the campsite just disliked motorcyclists, tent campers, foreigners or Germans in particular. At least he was the most non-welcoming person I’ve ever met on my trips to the island. A nail in my rear tire on the morning of my departure led to further questions – and it was the first time in my life that I was happy to board the ferry home. When I arrived at Vaals at 4 a.m. I switched on my TV – and was kind of paralyzed.
I think you never had a chance to get real Europeans. Whenever you’ve left the UK, you had to go through customs. And you had to change money. The EU was, is and will be blamed for everything going wrong – yesterday, today and in future, even long time after a finished Brexit. People tend to concentrate on concrete structures, like the EU, instead of abstract problems, like globalization. Both happened simultaneously and during the same period of time, and problems of the latter are blamed on the EU, which just isn’t fair. But fairness doesn’t sell well. Since about 10 years I’m reading articles and readers comments on the Guardian and Independent (next to German or Dutch online newspapers) – both no typical tabloids like The Sun or Daily Mail. My personal essence would be:
- The EU is non-democratic and un-elected
- Germany is building it’s 4th Reich within the EU by means of the Euro
- Merkel (or whoever will follow her) is the devil
- J.C. Juncker (or whoever will follow him) is the devil’s assistant
- Each British problem must have it’s origin in some weird EU legislative
- We will lose our identity
- Others will follow, the EU will break up
- Any phrase which could be used in conjunction with “nazi” or “war”
The essence of stereotypes from continental papers:
- The Brits disliked the EU from the very beginning
- The Brits are living off past imperial glories, sullenly resenting being in Europe rather than ruling the world
- The British have a historic tendency to be stiff, snobbish, unemotional or obsessed with class and status
- Splendid Isolation is the only way they want to go.
- We’re better off without the UK
In the media there is always another new bandwagon. The good cabaret artist describes it; the bad jumps on and rides with it. Nine month after the referendum the United Kingdom is un-united as can be. 52% Brexiters (many of them starting to feel uneasy) against 48% Remainers. The youth, with a stolen future, against the old, who want back the old England of better days and who will not be around when the shit hits the fan. None of them will get what he or she wants. There will only be losers in the end. In England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Gibraltar as well as on the continent.
From a continental view you’ve all been tricked into Brexit. It’s hard to understand how such an important decision can be based on a simple majority of votes. But many of the lies fell on fertile ground – prepared by tabloids over 40 years. No question, life will go on after Brexit, but it will be more colourless than before. We will lose British influence (which was bigger than many people in the UK might think), and we might lose part of your culture, which always was extremely important and formative for Europe.
I’m still in a state of shock – and so I changed my plans to visit Cornwall and Devon for Austria and Slovenia in September. I’m not afraid of xenophobia in the UK, and I will come back some day, but currently I can’t imagine to enjoy another trip to England or Wales within near future. Maybe I will re-boot my preference for the British Isles softly by visiting Ireland and Scotland again – my all-time favorite countries in Europe.
I’m already missing you – and I fear I won’t see you back within my lifetime.