Haven’t most of us, at some time in our lives, been told to stop using bad language? The government even went so far as to tell its ministers not to use the B word – Brexit – that is. It’s been nearly five years. The Deal is done. We should just make a go of it.
It’s not that simple, though, is it? Brexit isn’t working. Brexit is already broken – as witnessed by the fishermen, farmers, hauliers, musicians and countless others who find that a mountain of red tape is interfering with trade or stopping it altogether. That may not be important to you. The Prime Minister himself once said, “F*ck Business,” so it doesn’t seem to matter to him, but shouldn’t it?
When an event affects you personally, it’s much harder to shrug and tell yourself to “get on with it,” especially if you feel that what has happened is unjust, is not inevitable, and most importantly, could be fixed. I am not a haulier, a cheese producer, a small business importing from the EU or someone selling products in the EU. I’m not a talented musician nor a stagehand. I am a mum.
Almost four years ago, my daughter met and fell in love with a lovely Italian man who came to the UK to study at a local language school. Although he had to return to Italy to complete his training in osteopathy, they were initially able to see each other every couple of weeks. Even throughout the pandemic, when they have seen each other only once, their relationship has remained strong. So why I am I so bothered about Brexit?
While we were still in the transition stage many things remained as they were when we were members of the EU. Travel was easy and cheap. Qualifications and documents were recognised and accepted as equivalent – driving licences and car insurance, as well as technical and medical qualifications. At the first lockdown we sent parcels to each other (my daughter was furloughed and then made redundant so she is back living at home). We got parmesan and salami and they got Cheddar cheese and marmalade. We did it again in the second lockdown, and at Christmas. It cheered us up in those dark times.
It was Marco’s birthday in January but my daughter couldn’t send any presents. A parcel that before had cost around £30, tracked, suddenly cost £130 to send. When once she had the right to go and join him in Italy, she no longer has that right, and he no longer has the right to move here. Will his qualification be recognised here? Will he have enough points to be allowed to stay, now the immigration hoops have become harder to jump through? Like so much else, we don’t know.
We have brought our children up to appreciate different cultures, and to value things that may be found both within and outside of our shores. To have the right to live, work and love in any of 28 European countries was a given and it was wonderful. My daughter spent part of her third year at university in Stockholm doing an internship at H&M through the, now scrapped, Erasmus scheme. It was magical to visit her there in winter.
Many people voted for Brexit with the best of intentions. Fishermen thought they would get a better catch. Farmers thought there would be less paperwork and quicker payments. People who care about the NHS thought the promise on the bus meant something. It’s not their fault. But it had consequences.
When you were a child, maybe your brother or sister snatched your toy and broke it, even though they didn’t want it for themselves. That’s how Brexit feels. Brexit feels spiteful. To deny a whole other way of life to people simply because you don’t want it for yourself is spiteful.
But that shouldn’t be the end of the story. People have been hurt by Brexit. Instead of antagonising and blaming the EU for not treating us better, when it was the UK that opted to become a ‘third country’, we could come together and say: “Look, this isn’t working, can we agree a way to fix it?”
I want my children’s futures to be open and full of opportunity. I want their rights restored. Our place is close to Europe. It’s the continent we inhabit; we share in its culture and history. So no, I am not going to stop using the ‘B’ word any time soon. I’ll stop when the government has remembered its duty to look after the livelihoods of its citizens and begun to act like a grown-up to sort out the problems.
Taking another look at re-joining the Customs Union and the Single Market, one of Britain’s greatest contributions to European prosperity, might be a good place to start.