I’ve just returned to springtime in England after a week back in snowy, late winter Ontario. What I was doing was making the final preparations for the big move back this May after 8 1/2 years of living and working in the UK.
While back, many of the people I spoke with seemed surprised that we’d want to leave England and come back to Ontario. One of the most common questions I heard was “Why?” They then pointed out how close I was to Europe, or spoke of castles, or how the cultural centre of London was practically at our door step, or they said, “You’ll miss Harry and Meghan’s wedding!”
Let’s step back to the morning of June 23, 2016 – the morning that the results of the EU referendum were announced. It had been dubbed as “advisory only” vote, but after a campaign fraught with misleading statements and outright lies turned the tide in the favour of the so called Brexit-ers. Many felt that the narrow win was their license to grab the reins and run with it. Something had been let loose that was deeply disturbing and called for a thoughtful re-evaluation of our future work and retirement plans.
During the referendum we had put up a “Remain” sign. Having a basic grasp of trade, economics, as well as 20th century history, the decision was a quick and easy one and left no other sane or viable choice. 73% of Oxford agreed with us but living in the Midlands, we were an island of “Remain-ers” in a vast sea of rural “Leave” voters.
In the weeks following the vote, if you expressed doubts about the wisdom of the government’s plans to proceed on such a narrow margin, you were told to “get over it” and some were even dubbed as “traitors” by the prolific tabloid media. The polarization within the country was fast and at times became very nasty. While the BBC reported that racist and hate crimes nationally rose by over 50% in the months following the referendum, we got off light by comparison – with only some crude graffiti written on our fence.
Now, a year and a half on, the plans for Britain’s post-Brexit future are fuzzy if they exist at all. The lack of clarity has shown as the pound stagnates, foreign investors pull out and others scale back on proposed expansions. Best estimates say the slump will last for 10-20 years and will hit worst in the less affluent northern towns – the areas that voted strongest to leave the EU.
Like the increasingly polarized politics everywhere, none of the logical or fiscal arguments seem to matter. “We’ve had enough of experts,” proclaimed one leading politician. Full steam forward and damn the torpedoes seems to be the line of both the government and, more surprisingly, the opposition.
The one relief I had from it all during my visit however was that it was the first week of the winter Olympics and everyone was on the same page on that topic!
Now if we can just hold onto that in the weeks and months to come as we edge towards both provincial and federal elections we’ll be the better for it.
– Bob Houghton
Broadcasting – Television & Communications Media, ’81