I remember the 1975 referendum to stay in the common market. I was nine years old I didn’t understand what was going on but I remember the sense that something important was happening, something that affected everyone, even us little kids who couldn’t understand what it was. I knew it was momentous. And it was. It was the very definition of momentous: it was “of great importance or significance, especially in having a bearing on future events”.
Because of the Yes result in that referendum, I grew up as a European. When my mother was living in Europe, she was still near me. When I heard people speaking French or German or Italian in the streets and cafes around the area where I grew up, I didn’t think of them as foreigners, I thought of them as visitors from a different part of Europe, a place that was as accessible to me as London was to them. When, later, I had French, Italian, German friends, it felt to me as if they were from the same part of the world as i was. I felt very differently about my American friends and even family. I have always felt more European than American despite having American blood in my veins, despite having been there more often and for longer spans of time than I have in Europe. I have always felt that I live on a Northern corner of Europe, When I look at the UK in my mind, the psychogeographical map of my home, I see it as a far-flung part of the larger land of Europe.
When the 2016 referendum happened, it felt momentous in the same way as the 1975 vote had. I gave it long and grave consideration. One person, one vote. I knew this was an important responsibility. I weighed it up carefully, I won’t pretend it was a cut-and-dried decision for me. But in the end it came down to one big issue, one that outweighed and overshadowed every other consideration. Connection. Connection between people, and between nations. Connection is what makes us safe. Connection makes us able to laugh, and comforts us when we cry. Connection is the thing that makes us strive further, for the greater good, for each other. Connection makes us want to be the best possible version of ourselves, so that we can be of service to each other, receive praise from each other. Everything of worth that I have ever attempted and ever achieved was inspired by a desire to connect. It’s our connection to each other that makes us great: from cooking to fixing cars, winning races, making art and leading nations, it’s all rooted in our need for connection. It is absence of connection that makes us small and narrow and sad. Bigotry, prejudice, closed-mindedness, meanness in all its forms, lazy selfish behaviour, even littering in the street, these all stem from a lack of connection, a failure in our sense of being connected to each other.
So in the end, after all, voting to remain in Europe was about wanting to stay connected to a larger family of people, a larger community.
The ugly slide towards the Right that we have been seeing over the last several years, and that has manifested as Brexit, threatens connection at every level. Families, communities, our whole nation has been riven by this quarrel.
Brexit saddens me more than I can say, more deeply than I can allow myself to feel. For all the reasons that we all know, all the political and social reason, but more deeply, more profoundly, because it signifies a separation, a lessening of connection with a larger branch of the human family. And I fear that the slender wedge that has found an access point in Brexit will be driven deeper into British society and widen the schism that has been exposed in our society.
After the election, when we all slumped under the knowledge that things are going to get very much tougher in the next five years, part of the dismay was the knowledge that Brexit was now a certainly.
And here we are. We’re leaving Europe. It will take another few years to get our coats and find the bag that slipped down behind the sofa, organise the cab fare, say our goodbyes and clatter down the stairs to the street, where we’ll walk away from the party alone in the gloom.
I don’t know what else to say. I have hopes, I have determinations and intentions. I have fears and concerns. I have no idea what happens next.
Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon.
Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted,
And human love will be seen at its height.
Live in fragments no longer.
–E.M. Forster, Howards End
These beautiful words were written by a good friend who was kind enough to give me her permission to share them.