In the aftermath of Britain’s decision to leave the EU
Ten days after the referendum, my flatmate Vicky, my boyfriend David and I adopted a cat. We’d talked about it before. We had a mouse problem which couldn’t be solved by humane traps, and we all love cats. It would have happened sooner or later but the Brexit vote, and an ad for a tiny kitten free to a good home were what pushed us to take the step. On the night of the Referendum, I had a watch-the-results party. I was blithe and glib—of course Britain wouldn’t vote to leave. Only we did.
The following day I felt a spasm, every time I loaded the BBC or Guardian and saw Britain Votes for Brexit, but I couldn’t tear myself from the internet. When I started to clean the debris of the previous night’s party I put on the radio. Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, who let me do work experience in his office back when I was a kid of fourteen and he wasn’t even an MP yet, came on. I turned up the radio to hear his light voice above the scrubbing of pots: ‘And now it turns out that project fear was project massive understatement,’ he said, referring to the label which the Brexiteers had given their rival’s campaign tactics.
I listened to his interview and remembered how my Dad used to call him Timtim, a name that integrated him with the cartoon hero he so closely resembled. We always said he should get a fox terrier and name it Snowy, his sidekick, his deputy. “Tim might be PM one day,” my Dad said when I came in moaning after a day of addressing envelopes, and I laughed at the idea, but now he’s leader of the Lib Dems.
Next there was panel show. A Labour MP was asked if she would continue to support Corbyn. She dodged the question, she had a teething baby, she was tired, she’d been up all night with baby and Brexit. I imagined pacing the room with a small, warm, crying child, and thought maybe the cries would have drowned out the results. The petitions came the first day. The vote could be overturned, it was argued, it was a protest vote, no one really wanted it. A friend posted on Facebook about overhearing two women in Pret a Manger. “I voted out,” said one “so did I,” said the other, “and now we are out. How did that happen?”
The Guardian quoted a man in Wales asking what the EU ever did for them whilst standing in front of a new football pitch and complex of buildings all created with EU cash. The subtext was clear: People didn’t know what they’d voted for.
The subtext was clear: People didn’t know what they’d voted for.
David said, “It kills me, the people who voted for this are the least educated, the poorest, and they’ll be hardest hit.” Later he added. “We don’t have a level of education people have to reach in order to vote, and it would be awful if the government did. I’m just disappointed.” I knocked the crisp crumbs off the EU flag and hung it out of the window, but it wasn’t a protest but a gesture of mourning.
My friend Daniel, who was pro Brexit, offered himself up to Twitter as a punchbag, “A lot of people are angry. Hurt me. I feel responsible,” — but he was happy. A University friend who works for the Conservative Party defended Brexit, and was slaughtered on his Facebook Status. I felt bad for him. The following Pooh and Piglet meme was shared, then quickly changed to this. Brexit had awoken a nastiness in all of us; even Pooh and Piglet weren’t allowed to be happy in a twee meme. I went for a walk along the canal, and I wanted to stop strangers, to console with them, to say, isn’t it awful, like there had been some terrible tragedy. Maybe there had.
Johanna, my Swedish friend, who spoke about being “one of those people who comes over and takes jobs,” was less sad after coffee with a friend. She spoke to some of her friends who had supported Brexit, she sort of understood more, she said but I got the feeling she was still sad and scared. Kirsten, who is from Germany, had joked about “checking out this whole benefits malarkey where the government give you lots of free money” on the night of the Referendum Result, aping the style of the Daily Mail, and making us laugh. She was feeling down the next day.
“Don’t take it personally,” I said.
“Well, as the main issue is immigration it’s pretty hard not to take it personally,” she said. She was worried — EU Nationals in the UK had been told they were OK “for now.”
FUBAR was the term used to describe the political situation. I’d heard it before, on days when we were rushing to deadline at a magazine I once interned for, but it had never rung true. Things had been chaotic, we hadn’t been on schedule, but things were, in retrospect, recognizably Fucked Up.
FUBAR was the term used to describe the political situation.
Suddenly our safe, stuffy politics was gone. The imagined hush of Westminster with leather shoes echoing in stone corridors had disappeared, like an illusion. Cameron fired the starting whistle with his resignation, giving MPs permission to go forth and create chaos. Blond Boris with his eternally good-natured face, threw his hat into the ring, alongside Theresa May, Liam Fox and Andrea Leadsom. About one week after Brexit, Michael Gove, Boris’s pinched-faced pro-Brexit sidekick announced he too was running, and Boris Johnson withdrew his campaign.
Gove’s wife, Daily Mail Journalist Sarah Vine, who had previously written about how she would “never be as glamorous as Sam-Cam” (Samantha Cameron — The Mail needs to abbreviate everything), was said to be behind Gove’s betrayal of Boris. She had “accidentally leaked” a letter a day before her husband’s ambush that strongly implied that Boris was not to be trusted. I was working overtime at the library, but glancing at the papers I felt a buzz. I hated that Brexit was happening, but I was beginning to enjoy it.
I hated that Brexit was happening, but I was beginning to enjoy it.
UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, was next to resign but only after he’d gone to the EU Parliament and insulted everyone. Since then he has grown a moustache. To be fair, it is to promote understanding of male cancers, however it does look a bit of an homage to Hitler. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader whom David compares to The High Sparrow from Game of Thrones, was the only protagonist to hang on, in spite of a vote of no confidence by his party. The conflict for the Labour party is ongoing, and it’s really tragic to see the party of Nye Bevan and George Orwell tearing itself to pieces.
I’m a Labour party member and have been since early 2015, so will get a vote in the leadership. I forgot clean about my direct debit and the party took the last five pounds out of my account on the day after the Referendum, putting me a pound overdrawn. “At least a pound isn’t as much as it used to be,” said David.
Tim Farron stayed put as well. He had no reason to go. The Liberal Democrats lost a lot of support after joining a coalition with the Tories in 2010, but maybe they’ll come back now, and who knows, maybe my Dad was right? Maybe one day Timtim will be Prime Minister.
The weekend after the weekend after the Referendum our friends Matt and Siobhan came to dinner. David cooked lamb shoulder slowly under tin foil so the house smelt savoury and delicious when I came in from work. We talked about the referendum. Matt said how gutted he was. Siobhan said she was thinking of moving to Ireland. We drank wine and I told them how the Labour Party has put me into my overdraft the day after the referendum.
David talked about how he signed the mortgage on his flat on June 23rd (the day of the vote), which caused Matt to suck in his breath through his lips like he’d been burned. We played music, and it got later, and we tried to talk about other things but kept on going back to the Referendum and the interminable summer which lay before us with no Prime Minister, or clarity as to what would happen.
“Wasn’t David Cameron nice,” said Vicky, “wasn’t he such a nice man, and we all thought he was an evil Tory.” She was taking the piss, but there was something in what she said. The uncertainty and horrible choice between various right-wing candidates was frightening, and we longed for the days when David Cameron’s horrible cuts were the worst we were facing.
We longed for the days when David Cameron’s horrible cuts were the worst we were facing.
At some point Enola Gay came onto David’s iTunes, and he started singing Theresa May to the tune, and it fit perfectly, and we were drunk and it didn’t seem weird at all. That was the night we saw ad for the free kitten. A girl had adopted him not knowing her partner was allergic to cats. He was very loved and very young — ten weeks — they hadn’t had him long. He was a small black cat. A witch’s cat.
I replied instantly with a little about us, thinking they would be inundated with people, but they liked our reply. Maybe it’s because I work from home a lot, and have time to spend with an animal. “We can drop him round tomorrow?” said the girl in a text, as David sang “Ah-ah Theresa May, uh-hu.”
Olives, named for his green eyes and large black pupils, was dropped off on Sunday evening at 6p.m. He spent the first two days hiding in the bookcase, coming out briefly to narrow his eyes at us, and blink slowly. On the third day, he went and sat on Vicky looking up at her face, his chin nudging hers ever so slightly in a gentle question. For ages she didn’t stand up, scared she would break the spell.
A week or so later Andrea Leadsom stepped down, and Theresa May became Prime Minister. Her eyes are sad and deep and tired, and her hair is the color of steel. She created a department for Brexit and made Boris Johnson Foreign Secretary. She came to Scotland to meet Nicola Sturgeon, describing some of her notions as “fanciful” despite saying she was willing to listen to Scotland.
The Scots voted overwhelmingly to remain in Europe, while England and Wales voted to leave. It looks like we could get another independence referendum next year, but this time it would lack the innocence and idealism seen in 2014. Will Brexit actually happen? Will we get a trade deal with Europe if it does? Will Scotland remain part of the UK, or did the union die on the night we voted to leave the EU? I don’t know. The news has died down, for now. Our kitten chases flies round the flat and leaps on us in our sleep at 4a.m., and all the mice have long gone.
Hope Whitmore is a writer who lives in Scotland. She shares a flat with another writer and romantic, Vicky Hood. They share many pretty dresses. Hope is writing a novel.