A letter to Brexit

Written in a holiday park in Drenthe, Netherlands

June  5th 2016

Dear Brexit,

I’m glad we’re having some time apart. I know you feel like you’ve got a lot of things to say in the run up to your big day on June 23rd. But I was starting to find it all a bit overwhelming, so it’s good to have some space and distance.

It’s peaceful here on the other side of the North Sea. Not many British people know about this rural corner of the north east Netherlands. I don’t know if you’d like it here to be honest – I always get the feeling that different cultures aren’t really your thing. But the cycling is brilliant, on quiet flat roads, the countryside is full of wildlife, the people are friendly and the food – as long as you like ham, eggs and cheese – is delicious.

I’ve been coming here for about 30 years, because in 1986 – via an international penfriend club – I became friends with a Dutch girl. Yes, that’s right, I said friends. With someone of a different nationality. I know that may sound strange to you. But I had a bit of a penfriend craze back in the 80’s, and I grew up knowing that I had a lot in common with teenagers from elsewhere in Europe. With my Dutch pen pal I shared matey banter and insults, and gossiped about A-ha. With my French friend I discovered a shared interest in astrology and exchanged more celebrity gossip about A-ha. To my Spanish penfriend I confided secrets (not just about my true feelings for Morten Harket) that nobody else knew,  knowing instinctively from her handwriting that she was a kindred spirit. And a fiercely political German girl taught me that people whose grandfathers had fought against mine four decades earlier could be full of determination to avoid the mistakes of the past. She wrote and told me how she’d cried with happiness at the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and her letter made me cry too. (We did also trade Aha posters as well).

The point I’m trying to make here, Brexit, is that actually we are all the same, us Brits and Johnny Foreigner. “If you tickle us, do we not laugh?”and all that (that’s Shakespeare by the way. And yes, they do know who he was).

And that’s what turns me off your whole ‘leave the EU’ argument. It’s all couched in the language of ‘we’ and ‘us’ vs ‘them’, and I just don’t get it. I don’t know what definition of ‘we’ could feasibly lump me together with Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage instead of with my Dutch, French, Spanish and German friends. Some of my best friends are from neighbouring EU countries, and there are plenty of British people who I really don’t like at all. Separating from the rest of Europe makes as much sense to me as Merseyside, where I was born, separating from Yorkshire where I live now. We live in a shrinking world, with communities that span continents, and there are so many things – not least an appreciation of  Norwegian pop gods amongst women of a certain age – that we have in common.

I know what you’re going to say – it’s not the ordinary European people, it’s the remote, unaccountable EU leaders you’ve got a problem with (not sure I believe you though, what with all the whinging about Polish plumbers). Frankly I’ve always thought British politicians were pretty unaccountable too. It wasn’t the EU that wiped out our mining industry in the 1980’s, or introduced the poll tax, took us to War in Iraq, gave us austerity and the bedroom tax. No, that was British politicians – “our guys” who took all those fairly crappy political decisions. So you’ll excuse me for thinking that actually we do need some friendly European influence to keep us from completely screwing everything up. I quite like the workers rights and clean beaches and recycling that you view as European meddling.

I’ll be flying home today, and no doubt I’ll soon catch up with all the latest jingoistic, xenophobic arguments you’ve been coming out with lately, and I’ll be shouting at Question Time as usual. If I was young enough to learn a foreign language properly and adjust to driving on the other side, I’d be very tempted to stay here. Brexit, being away from you has made me realise just how much I disagree with you, and how much I appreciate all that you’re trying to take away from us. It’s brilliant here. Everything from the food, the weather, the ease of hiring bikes so that the kids can bomb around on safe cycle paths. My Dutch penpal’s daughter, who is 13, can join in with English conversations at a level which puts language teaching in the UK to shame. The EU may not be perfect but anything that makes it easier for us to get to know and cooperate with our European neighbours, rather than going to war with them every few years as we have for the last few centuries, has got to be a good thing in my book.

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12 thoughts on “A letter to Brexit

  1. Absolutely brilliant Kirsty. If I had any idea about how to get this into The Guardian I’d arrange it now! It deserves being seen far and wide. Sensible, honest, pertinent, heartfelt comment, unlike most of what we are seeing (on both sides unfortunately!) Tell the family that you deserve an extra special treat – something like all the washing and ironing completed by them after the holiday! Well done!

  2. As an American, I’m jealous you live so close to so many other countries. You can just hop on a ferry and see other places that would be an enormous, expensive, drawn-out journey for us.

    We’re relatively isolated. So isolated that I’d wager most Americans have no clue the Brexit issue is even happening.

    • Its a shame we don’t take more advantage of that closeness – the distance is not much but it still seems pretty expensive and drawn out, because of the cost of travelling pluse the sheer volume of traffic on the roads. The different perspectives we have on distance always make me smile. While in Holland we met up with some American friends who live in a pretty remote area, and to hear them talk about the space and wilderness they live in compared to our postage stamp sized house in a built up area…. ,!

  3. I enjoyed this piece very much, and it struck a lot of chords with my experiences of travelling in Europe. I feel quite despairing about the prospect of a vote to leave. It’s hard, having been born and brought up English and yet only actually being half English by origin, to think of the country I feel a part of, potentially turning its back on our world.

    • Well in a little over 24 hours we’ll know. I’m not holding out much hope, there is such a tide of anti-immigrant sentiment everywhere. Would be nice to be proved wrong though…

  4. Pingback: June 24th 2016: lost a continent, gained … a cat? – kirstwrites

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