Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Bollocks to Brexit

Since this country narrowly voted to leave the European Union in 2016 I’ve felt more European, not less.

It’s reflected in the songs we play on the radio: French disco, Belgian techno, Krautrock and Italian house music. All of it. In fact, I think it’s one of the things that helped cement Neil and I’s friendship. This is a man who proudly states that the best thing anyone ever said about him was that he was “the most European person I know”.

Neil speaks French and has lived over there. He has aspirations to move to Italy, his kids have Italian names and he works for the uber-cool Swedish outdoor clothing brand, Haglofs.

For my part, I don’t speak any other languages but have consistently hoovered up the European ideal that this country has turned its back on.

Since 2016 I’ve had city breaks right across our continent. A train trek from London to Copenhagen via Brussels and Cologne. A twin city jaunt to Helsinki and Tallinn, where I seriously explored the possibility of taking out Estonian digital citizenship.

In Berlin, I purchased a notebook with the cover of the DDR passport on it - commie East Germany - which didn’t go down too well when I whipped it out of the wrong pocket at passport control.

Going a step further, my wife Rachel is going to take out the full analogue citizenship for Ireland the nation of her parent's birth - which might make queuing at certain airports relatively easier, among other benefits.  

I devour this outrageously trendy magazine called Monocle, which features cities all over the world and frequently rates them for their liveability and as a destination for a city break.

Taking their advice - and that of other Europhile friends - last week me and Rachel went to what I think was our favourite European city break yet - Porto, Portugal’s second city, famed for its wine and port. 

Last year Monocle rated Porto as the number one ‘small city’ to live, to start a business and to visit. It was superb, not too expensive, full of character, multicultural and safe. It has beaches, Fado music, an accessible modern airport, loads of Brazilians, and a really cool football team that have won as many European Cups as Nottingham Forest and two more than Manchester City.

It hurts me that this comfortable relationship with Europe has gone. I know there will be a Brexit supporter who will point out that the vote was to leave the European Union, not Europe, but that’s not how it’s played out culturally has it?

I don’t remember that on the side of a bus, just digs at foreigners, or the lies on posters about millions of Turks flooding over the border and controlling immigration. So actually I struggle to see what it is that Brexit has achieved. I remember asking people which law they were most looking forward to not having to obey. Now I ask, what’s been so ace about Brexit? The answer never comes. 

It also never comes in the tawdry clashes for the Tory leadership. Not one of the political minnows trying to succeed the worst Prime Minister this country has ever had mentioned the benefits of the Brexit they "got done" after the election platform they all were elected on.

As a country we haven’t soared, we have shrunk. In status, in pride and in our economic fortunes.

We cried as we left, because Porto was just so lovely. I cried too an hour after we touched down at Manchester Airport. Weary from the huge queue through passport control, tired from a delayed flight, unable to get out of a messy, badly designed, poorly served airport full of mean regulations. As proud as I am of our immense city, our Airport is an utterly shameful gateway, but maybe it’s a fitting monument to failing Brexit Britain.

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