You Can’t Go Home Again

I expected to have a stronger, more visceral, response to Brexit Day than I actually did, when it happened.

Part of that underperformance came, I admit, from the fact that there were other things happening in my life that required more immediate attention at the time; another part is that my existential horror allowance was already used up paying attention to the shitshow that was the impeachment trial in the Senate. Brexit? That’s old news.

I read reports about how the day played out in the UK itself: a mix of funereal feelings from some, and apparently parties and celebrations from others. The latter, especially, felt like an overreaction considering that “Brexit Day” was really just the next step on a massive journey, and that little will actually change on a global scale in the immediate aftermath.

The immediate change had happened already, more than once. Three times, in fact: with the vote to leave Europe, and each of the two successive general elections, in 2017 and 2019, when the country (countries, plural) doubled down en masses and refused to step in to stop the madness. Full steam ahead, seemed to be the order. Man the ramparts and damn everyone and everything in our way.

Each of those days provoked a visceral reaction, a deep sadness and disbelief that it was actually happening. A hope, perpetually shrinking, that something would happen to shock some common sense into people and turn everything around before it was too late.

But January 31, the day it actually was too late…? That just kind of… happened. Perhaps it was because there was such an inevitability to it. Perhaps it seemed like the necessary, unsurprising next step into whatever this brave new world is we’re about to live in. Perhaps I was just too beaten down by everything else to do anything but watch from afar and think, sure, that seems about right. Who can tell?

I am, I think/expect/hope, going back to the UK this year, at the end of the year.  My first time there in what’ll be eight years, by that point. When I was there last time, I was continually surprised by how different everything felt. I can only imagine how much more true that’s going to be the next time I step foot on my homeland.

Everyone Feels They Are The Losers

It quickly becomes apparent why there is even more friction than normal between the rival groups of protesters. A few yards away, a woman with a tricycle that has a union jack strapped to its handlebars is wearing a shirt which says “WTO Rules”. She is strikingly calm, given what she says happened to her two days before. “A man came up to me and called me a Nazi scumbag,” she says. “He grabbed me from behind and then dragged me down to the ground. Then he started to beat me with my own flag and tried to break my windpipe.” The police, she says, have told her it was caught on CCTV and that they are investigating.

She decided to come back two days later, bearing scars and having seen her doctor, because she feels strongly that Brexit is being betrayed. Behind her are banners held by other Leavers. “Leave Now. I’m thinking what Guy Fawkes thought,” one sign says.

No one outside the Palace of Westminster believes their side is winning the Brexit battle. Everyone feels they are the losers. But one matter they do agree on is that the politicians have let them down.

Last week’s events in the Commons illustrated the depth of the crisis. Three days of hugely important votes did not chart a clearer way forward. They merely confirmed what MPs did not want – and that in all probability Brexit will have to be delayed. Labour seemed indecisive at times, and to be offering just more of the same. Chaos inside the Westminster bubble fed the public’s anger and despair outside.

From here.