Utter disbelief. The morning of 24th June 2016 signified nothing less than the end of the European dream.
My identity is, first and foremost, European. My nationality and the passports I hold are incidental. I am from two European countries, born in a third, and grew up in fourth. I made a fifth European country, the United Kingdom, my home. Without warning, I suddenly felt like an outsider in a country I called home.
The referendum was held twenty years to the month I moved to the UK, back in June 1996. I could never have imagined then that my legal right to live here for my lifetime would be revoked. That anyone could think being part of a continent that has been at peace for longer than any other time in its history – largely as a result of the creation of the European community (now the EU) – could cast Europe aside so easily as the British people seemingly did. The EU is not just a thriving economic and political block, it is one of the most successful peacetime projects in history.
In one fell swoop I went from being a European citizen to a migrant. The day after the referendum, several friends asked me where I was from. Though their questions were well meaning, a label was being attached to me that wasn’t there before. Divisions were being created. Suddenly, I was different, an outsider. EU citizens are a culturally rich and diverse bunch, and make an enormous contribution to the fabric of British society. My belief that the hallmark of the United Kingdom was an open and tolerant society seems to have been built on sand.
It is now two years since the citizens of the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU.
Being part of Europe is more important than ever and I will continue to fight Brexit, no matter how long it takes. Diversity enriches societies, cultures and nations, and instead of building walls and pulling up the drawbridges, we need cooperation, understanding and tolerance to battle the many global challenges facing us. In the words of the late Jo Cox, “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”
Ines Respini Jones