A letter to his Father [Why I left behind little Britain]
I am reasonably certain that you will not be familiar with Franz Kafka's 1919 work – A letter to his father. To be honest you are not really missing anything – it’s a whiny depressing read, albeit novel and insightful at the same time. And I doubt I am the first person in history to try and emulate Kafka on this but I am hoping that my version is rather less of a childish tantrum than the original.
In a similar homage to Kafka, it's quite likely that you, the reader, will be led down a winding endless road of despair, only for the story end abruptly and unfinished.
The sub-title offers the not so subtle subtext, to what I am hoping will highlight a division in so many British families today. The 2016 Brexit referendum caused a seismic and seemingly irreparable inter generation chasm that despite talk of ‘healing’ and ‘coming together’ it is unlikely to be solved in either of our lifetimes. Again, I doubt I am the first to write on this subject but hope that it may help you and others to find some understanding and perhaps solace in the situation we now find ourselves. Moreover I hope it helps you understand why, I had to leave.
Like many people, I awoke the morning of 24th June 2016 with a hole in my heart. In fact, not just my heart, my guts felt as though they had been ripped out. Trying to find a comparable example is tricky but perhaps think about that feeling you get when you have been punched in the gut. Or kicked in the balls. Or dumped by a girlfriend. Imagine your team losing in the cup final to 2 injury time own goals, or being made redundant from a job you love. Now try to imagine each of them all rolled into one.
To be honest though, even that doesn’t do the feeling justice. With each of the above, you know, with time you will get over it. Time will heal all wounds to use a cliché phrase. But this feeling was different. That morning I knew something changed for good.
Before I say explain why, it's important that you try and understand a bit of my back story.
You see I grew up in a time when Britain, and the world seemed to be getting ‘better’. I’d lived through most of Thatcher and witnessed her demise. The Berlin Wall had fallen. Nelson Mandela had been released. The world was becoming a more open and integrated and tolerant place.
My early adulthood followed the rise and fizzling out of the New Labour project. Don’t get me wrong, this was a long way from perfect. Personally, I was never able to vote for them again after the 2013 invasion of Iraq. But for the most part, anyone who cares to remember the late 1990’s and most of the ‘naughties’ they were good years. Declining poverty, increased living standards, economic prosperity. Things did, to use new labours catchphrase ‘only get better’.
The subsequent Global Financial Crisis brought to an end a highly predictable over heated bubble and the resulting fallout brought a steady stream of unwinding and political disappointment.
By the time 2016 came around I should have been used to being on the losing side of elections. I saw Boris John voted in as Mayor of London (twice). Lost the 2011 referendum on voting reform, seen a Tory majority voted in in 2015 and the establishment of Jezza at the helm of the Labour party and their rapid lurch to the left. Either way I still didn’t expect it.
In despair of what to do in the aftermath of the referendum, there seemed to be only one viable option. Get the fuck out of here! While at that stage we had no idea what the final outcome would be, it was clear that whatever happened the next few years were going to be a mess. I have considered many times over the years whether that was an overreaction, but as time as wore on I have been proven that it was anything but. You see it wasn’t just about an ideological escape. There was also a very practical reason to leave the UK behind. My freedom.
As far as I am concerned, the most important aspect, the most wonderful thing of the EU is Freedom of Movement. The right to travel work and live within 27 other countries without hindrance or restriction. It is something my generation grew up without having to consider and it was its loss that we all feared the most that Brexit may, and sadly did, bring. For me it was how I lived my life. As a yoga teacher I was free to work across Europe without the need to work permits or visas.
You see when you voted for Brexit, you voted to take away that freedom. My freedom. You decimated the value of my passport. You said that you understood all the implications of Brexit. If that is true then it would mean you had wilfully chosen to harm my livelihood, my way of life.
Now I may well be able to begin to forgive you this, if I could work out what it it was you were were getting in return. We are all selfish creatures and I would understand if you sacrificed me, your second born, for your own benefit. Try as I might I still can't see it what it is that you are actually getting? If at this point you are thinking to respond with something like: ‘I got my country back’ or ‘I’m not ruled by Germany anymore’ - just stop right there.! You know full well that these are meaningless strap lines. They contain nothing concrete, nothing tangible.
Let's face it you got nothing out of Brexit. De nada. Zilch! Nil point! In fact the only things you did get were negatives. As a farmer, you will now be losing your generous farm subsidies. You will face the imposition of visas/work permits on your entirely Polish workforce and likely higher costs to export your meat and dairy produce to the continent.
And so, I left. In many ways I was left with little choice. If I want to stand any chance of getting my freedom of movement rights back and maintaining my livelihood then its my only option (you didn't even give me the possibility of Irish ancestors).
And so, I left. My initial plan to move to Berlin was somewhat disrupted by life events and and I found myself living in Australia. This was a curious place to find myself. Partly why I Australia didn’t work for me was because it seems to be the very place that the UK is trying to become. Remote, racist and isolated. I get the feeling that many in England would be happier if you could drag the island further out into the middle of the Atlantic.
I also find the love affair between Britain and its former colony kind of strange. It's like both are secretly aspiring to be each other.
Partly why I returned to Europe when I did was because I knew it would be my last chance before the borders were effectively closed. Finally I made it to Berlin. A city I love for everything that it is but for reasons I can never expect you to understand. It's a city where anything goes. Where people can be whoever they want to be. It's perfect in its' imperfection.
I watch what is happening in the UK now and I feel less and less affinity with the place I have until now called home. Whether it's the likely breakaway of Scotland. The new hardline immigration policies. The increased proliferation of nuclear weapons. I must admit even I thought the risks of violence erupting in Northern Ireland was overplayed - how wrong I was.
These are all things I thought we had left behind in the 1990's and 2000's. I thought things were only getting better.
So now I leave you all behind.