I am grieving over Brexit, an exploration of what this feeling is like.
My feelings about Brexit are akin to grief. Not just in the sense of sadness, but in the sense that it can unexpectedly grip me, clench my stomach, especially at times when I think I am fine, lulled in the sense that I am over it. That gripping feeling can be caused by some thoughtless comment by politicians, or even by neighbours and friends, but it can also occur entirely unprompted.
I loved the UK, my coming here was a free choice, through my exercise of treaty rights. It was not by necessity (I had a permanent, good job elsewhere). It was not by chance; it was by design.
Can you love a country you are not born in, and are not a citizen of? A country that you actively choose, as Alex Andreou put it?
As a child I would travel from Belgium to England each summer, to see family living in Portsmouth, and my spirits would lift when I saw the white cliffs of Dover, watching from the deck of the ferry.
As I grew up, I developed a love for British literature: Jane Austen, E.M. Forster, Thomas Hardy. I grew to enjoy British music (Dowland, Purcell, Hume), I reaffiliated from my native Catholicism to the Church of England and attended, in my home city of Ghent, services with a small congregation of British citizens living in Europe. I even grew to appreciate British food.
The early stages of this Brexit grief felt a lot like fear, as C.S. Lewis described the feeling: “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid”, a dull uneasy fear that ebbs and flows, but never entirely goes away.
Now, I am at the point where I feel I am over it, no longer loving the UK. I was irked by Theresa May’s queue jumper comment but it didn’t hit me as hard as it would a year ago.
I still live here, so I need to negotiate, within my heart at least, a different kind of relationship with the UK. But what is that relationship?
Could it be mutual advantage? Clearly not. It’s been made abundantly clear I’m just barely good enough here for my tax contributions and the work I do. And even so, I am apparently taking away a job from a British person, or a talented non-EU person who needs — through no fault of mine — a work visa to be able to fill a spot like mine.
Maybe what is left is then a kind of mutual tolerance: you tolerate me, I tolerate you? You tolerate me to the extent that I will still need to apply and pay to stay in my home and continue doing my job. Don’t worry, the UK government is saying, we’re not looking to nitpick and reject EU citizens on technicalities (as we do with other foreigners, it is implied). You’ll be fine.
And meanwhile I will tolerate you, in your much diminished incarnation as a nineteenth-century nation state in retreat.
“The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference”, Elie Wiesel observed, which is why after my love for the UK has gone away, I do not feel bitterness, hate or resentment.
If I move on to another country, I shall be more diffident, more wary, knowing I can (as an immigrant) be used as a political pawn at any moment. Not because my presence really harms the country (quite the opposite) but because it is politically expedient to pretend it does.
If I can start over again somewhere else, I shall treat this new relationship as a business relationship for mutual advantage from the start. I shall not make the mistake of making myself vulnerable by loving that country.🔷
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- (This piece was originally published on Medium.)