United What?

I didn’t expect any of this. In discussions in the weeks leading up to it, in the streets campaigning on the day of the vote, in the count hall just after 10 PM, ballots in hand. Watching the first results come in at 2 AM. I always expected it to go the other way. The risk was there, but it just never seemed like it would happen. You never think a life-altering decision will alter your own life. Until it does.

Yesterday at 4 AM, it was officially announced by BBC, ITV and other media outlets that Britain had decided to leave the European Union. Having been part of the count in Bristol, I had been following the referendum’s events from 9:30 PM until the very end. As well as the idea of Brexit actually becoming a reality, the most surreal part of the seemingly neverending night was witnessing an overwhelming emotional shift, as hope and positivity gave way to what seemed to be, in my corner of the internet, unanimous disappointment and anger.

As the night went on, the world just seemed to get heavier. In the count hall in Bristol, Remain campaigners looked defeated and upsettingly vacant underneath the previously hopeful rosettes and colourful merchandise. 18-25 year olds were taking to social media all night, screaming all the words that the box on the ballot paper could not contain. Leave supporters were silent. There was no panic, as Remain were frantically counting the votes in sync with us. There were no cheers as the balance tipped in favour of Brexit as the results came in, in that moment when we all realized that there would be no going back. Just a knowing look of satisfaction.

As we left the hall, there was a horrible silence that seemed to echo throughout the city. In any circumstances, when heading home alone at 4AM the world does feel eerie. No one is there to reminisce on the evening’s events – everyone is at this point either still drunk, fooling around in someone else’s bed, weeping over an argument, or peacefully sleeping. The streets are quiet. It’s terribly lonely. Isn’t it horrible when that feeling still hasn’t passed, over 24 hours later?

Watching the world wake up to the news at 5AM was like nothing I’ve ever seen. No one was happy. Responses went from disappointed to furious, as active campaigners had their word turned upside down, and even usually apolitical peers were genuinely scared. I’m still not sure what my own reaction is. I’m trying to understand how this as happened, how I can be part of a country that doesn’t agree with itself. This is not because I voted to Remain and 52% voted to Leave. I’m trying to understand how a 4% Win allows us to say that the British people have decided.

Have a look around you, do the British public really seem to have made one unanimous decision? Does the idea of democracy work in a Nation where we clearly don’t know who we are? If the majority of the country has decided that it is better for our country to leave the European Union, where are the 1,269,501 people who swayed it and why aren’t they holding my hand telling me that everything is going to be fine? I am not qualified enough to discuss the political and financial implications of the vote and what Brexit will ultimately mean for our country’s economic future. However I, like everyone else, can feel the overwhelming negativity now plaguing the United Kingdom, and the rest of the world.

Conversations that surround me are between Remain supporters who feel disappointed and let down by their own country, between Remain and Leave supporters who have divorced friends and families, and between Leave supporters, dealing with the anger that 48.1% of voters are showing towards them. And that’s not even taking into account the 28.2% of registered voters who did not make it to a polling station.

So is this it? Is this the United Kingdom, torn apart by its own disagreements? Whichever way you voted, can someone please enlighten me as to how exactly it is that today we stand stronger and where the unity is? Although statistics have spoken volumes about the generational gap in voters, I do not believe it is an Old vs Young battle. It is only after the results that we can face the pretty harrowing truth that in the vast majority of the 382 areas voting, we are completely split. When walking down the street I now find myself wondering about each person I cross paths with, wondering what they thought and are thinking right now. Did you want this? Are you happy now? I’m hoping that someone will stop me and convince me that I will be too.

It feels like the everyday has been flipped on its head. Usually, the risk appears when you leave the house preparing for the day to come. You could fail that exam. Your boss could fire you. It probably will rain. But whatever happens, you could come back to your home comforts at the end of the day, back to the security of the life you have chosen. Since the UK’s decision to leave the EU, whatever happens during the day can only be better than the overwhelming sinking feeling expressed by all but ultimately experienced alone at home, every single night from now on.

I was born in England and moved to France where I grew up, made friends and lived for 10 years. Whenever I was asked about plans for my future, however much they changed, they were always in the UK. Fashion designer, psychologist, photographer, filmmaker – however doubtful my career path, my identity was always to be British. And ask anyone else – tourists thrilled by every corner of London, international students planning their reinvention at University here, refugees risking everything just to cross the border, knowing nothing about what lies ahead but with absolute faith that our nation will provide the answer. The United Kingdom, despite its rain, questionable food at times and unique sense of humour, has an appeal like no other.

For me, being British isn’t about the stereotypes which attract the rest of the world, however good the crumpets taste over here. For me it has always been about the mindset. The Brits will rant for days – we are stroppy, loud, and sometimes vulgar, but we are always open. The conversation however animated will flow both ways allowing for debates in my everyday, and many a decisive discussion. Where I was met with pursed lips and raised eyebrows for years, here I have had conversations that have made me want to do the things I believe in so much more. Even if there were disagreements, foul jokes and a few crass remarks, there was a permanent conversation which encouraged hope and opportunity, always going up. Since the result of the referendum, I haven’t read a single article inspiring confidence – from any age, gender, class or profession. Every step forward just seems to be pointed downwards.

I voted to Remain because past the historical and economical facts pointing towards a stronger country as part of the EU, I believe in opportunity. I believe in community, I believe in sharing, and I believe in love. Whatever problems we have faced in the past, togetherness has always won. Reasons for Leave that I have witnessed have been fuelled by fear and denial, and sometimes hatred. Please, show me where the sense lies in writing a cross in a box to remove the sight of people you disagree with in the street. Neither extreme was going to magically fix every problem we face, but surely we can work through these issues and towards acceptance better when together?

Whatever comes of Brexit, any victory will be tainted with a yearning for a wider celebration, with those who now feel that their freedom has been snatched away from them. I want to be able to travel when and how I want, to meet and laugh and fall in love in as many places as possible. We were never a united world, but the UK belonged to something that made at least a small part of it seem that way. I’ve had a taste of it, but the whole world just feels sour now.

Despite being at the heart of the negative tidal wave response on social media, I am reluctant to fuel the angry fire of a youth that feels betrayed. I do not want to protest violently, nor do I want to joke about which country I will flee to, when my own no longer feels welcome. I want to understand. I want to understand how in a world where I do not see a single message of positivity, support or love, how it is that this is the right decision – be it one that I agree with or not. Show me hope, show me safety and I will welcome any decision that ‘we’ have chosen.

I don’t want to have to go back to France, however lucky I am told to be to have that option. I don’t want to apply for a different passport, I don’t want to heckle Leave supporters as they walk the streets. I don’t want to hate, I don’t want to be divided anymore. I want to understand. I want to understand where the unity is, I want to be shown that this is the right answer. I’m listening. I’m waiting.

Originally published on Huffington Post

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