A personal recollection of Brexit night. 3.7k words.
As the Captain Sensible song put it, I'm glad it's all over. After months of saturation coverage the EU referendum polling ends in a few minutes, and not a moment too soon. Even I who has a keen interest in current affairs has been nauseated by the saturation coverage of the campaign, let alone some of the most base propaganda both the Remain and Leave sides have put out. My friends on social media have split into polarised and bitterly divided camps employing bitter invective against the opposition. The debate has been reduced to little more than a trading of bang the rocks together simplisms along with the rekindling of prejudices deeply supressed or otherwise; I am heartily sick of hearing and reading about it all. So come ten o'clock, come quickly!
I'm as fed up of the hyperbolic UK media as I am of the endless debate; even at the best of times I find the mainstream news patronising, stupefying, and so dumbed down as to be an insult to the intelligence, but recently those traits have been exaggerated still further; I think I'll seeking my information from alternative sources as I've been doing recently.
I've grown up with radio. As a lifetime visually impaired person I have learned so much from it, which is why I mourn its protracted demise with such feeling. Short wave is but a shadow of its former self, medium wave is a desert, and long wave is dying. I'm sure there will come a time when we curse our apathy in allowing broadcasting to be replaced by podcasts and other online content; when expensive, energy demanding, all-or-nothing reception, non-resillient, walled garden Digital Audio Broadcasting is shown to be the overhyped farce it is. However while analogue radio's fading pulse still beats there are listenable stations to be heard: With my multiband receiver I scan the airwaves for them.
The Irish long wave station RTÉ is inaudible; swamped by interference from North African stations: At this time of the evening signals propagate further. Sweeping quickly past BBC Radio 4 I manage to pick up a news bulletin from France Inter; my French comprehension is the aural equivalent of looking through a glass darkly but I gather enough to learn an exit poll predicts the Remain camp winning, but the result may be too close to call. As I'm not learning anything new and am tired as I usually am by this time of the evening - living with a visual disability is itself debilitating - I'm going to bed; the result will be awaiting me in the morning. Alone I undress by the golden light of a nearly full moon which has risen. Even with corrected vision it appears blurred to me, without my thick glasses it is but an amorphous blob, but it will serve as my night light as I drift into sleep...
Then I'm awake. My room is suffused with a baleful brassy glow: I'm not sure how much time has passed. Temporarily confused I grope for my bedside alarm clock and holding it so close to my face it nearly touches my eye make out the hour. I've a feeling it's going to be one of those insomniac nights, but what was it that woke me? The light of the moon? The ever worrying subroutines of my unconscious? Or was it something else - fate for want of a better word - telling me I ought to be cognisant at this time?
I wonder if the outcome of the referendum is becoming any clearer yet? I could go downstairs and watch it on TV, but I detest the projected computerised graphics which are too clever by half, along with that condescending tone in the voices of all TV presenters which makes me want to grab them by the ears and bang their heads hard as well as repeatedly against a solid brick wall. No, I think I'll tune in and listen to the state of play unfold like a Radio 4 long wave test match commentary.
As the hour strikes I find I'm just in time to catch a BBC referendum special hosted by James Naughtie among others, and as soon as the innings begin it appears that the outcome of the contest is far from being decided. All is confusion with the exit polls suggesting a Leave 48% - Remain 52% outcome, though those figures lie well within the margin for error. Anything can, and may yet happen as this night unfolds. At the moment though, all is still speculation. They've brought in a psephologist to crunch the numbers and divine the outcome as the results come in but with nothing for him to go on attention is focused on UKIP leader Nigel Farage's post-poll speech. To my ears it sounds as though he is all but conceding defeat, though in true politician style allowing himself enough room to wriggle free should events prove otherwise. As for me, I'm expecting a narrower than expected victory for the Remain campaign, probably helped over the line by some unsubtle gerrymandering: The deadline for voter registration was extended, probably to allow the government to slip through some extra phantom electors once they realised they were at risk of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Here's where I should declare my position; I support leaving the European Union. I've been eurosceptic ever since I first considered the issue. My first childhood memories of 'Europe' figuring were seeing the January 1973 paper headlines heralding the UK's accession followed soon after by hearing my mother's complaints about how joining had made food prices rise, putting our hard-pressed family budget under greater stress. Time quickened to 1975 and the referendum as to whether we should stay or leave the European Economic Community as it was then. I remember seeing some of the campaign literature of the time, some pro-europe leaflets in a foretaste of what was to come favourably comparing the populations of America and the USSR against that of a united Europe and claiming "...Europe need fear no one." What?! I thought the EEC was a free trade agreement, not a fully-fledged country in its own right! Then there was the late 1970s news report which stays vividly in my memory featuring the Bumpfmobile, a Citrôen estate car brought by the European Commission to help transport the mass of paper files the institution generated between the various cities it convened in. Their weight proved too much for the car's suspension which collapsed under the strain so the vehicle was modified to cope; that proving ineffective a custom made set of twin rear axles were installed at considerable expense. It seems no one ever thought to buy a van which would be far better suited for the task...
Onward past 1983 when the Labour Party had realised the morass the UK had got itself bogged down in and promised a withdrawal in its election manifesto. Instead Margaret Thatcher prevailed and although sceptical, embraced the Single European Act. By the the turn of the 1990s the process really began to gather momentum; 1992 and all that, the nascence of the Euro single currency, (something in retrospect we were fortunate to insist upon exempting ourselves from); oh and by the way, we're a part of the European Union now; the change of name signalling the transformation beyond a trading agreement into a federation under construction. All of these measures were taken without any consultation of we the people who would be most affected by them; our consent was taken for granted.
But once set in motion there was no stopping this avalanche. Like a snowball rolling from the top of a mountain it grew in size as it gathered speed. After the fall of Berlin wall and the reunification of the continent, hordes of former communist apparatchiks looking for a new niche found it within the ever closer union, bringing their autocratic heritage with them. Suddenly border controls vanished and the Commission began granting itself authority in matters which were previously the purview of nation states; the Maastricht and Lisbon treaties were agreed, with any populace who stubbornly voted against their ratification when given the opportunity to do so by a plebiscite told to keep on voting until their will was broken and they eventually made the 'right' decision; this is how 'democracy' functions in the brave new Europa.
More states joined the Union, or expressed an interest in joining, some of them located beyond the conventionally accepted boundaries of Europe; with each one came a further diminution of British influnce and ability to govern ourselves. The Union started considering pan-european surveillance powers and a common EU foreign policy, along with the military capability to match it. No, this has got beyond a joke now; it's getting way out of hand. The EU even banned the powerful light bulbs I rely upon, leaving me incandescent and implacably opposed to their nanny state meddling in our lives.
I'm surprised it took this long for the issue to reach this point, but as Frank Zappa sang "There ain't no way to delay this trouble coming every day..." and now it will shortly be here, no matter which way the vote swings. The first results are coming through, Newcastle voted narrowly to remain, but what's this? Sunderland's declaration comes live and they confound expectations by endorsing Leave. The busy psephologist is consulted; he says this may point to a razor thin majority for the winning camp, with the possibility that Leave might prevail against all the odds. Maybe we'll get the worst of all possible outcomes; an inconclusive vote or a majority so narrow that the losing side will allege foul play. Perhaps legal action will be invoked or the rancour flash into street violence? Already during the acrimonious campaign the blood of Jo Cox has been shed.
The programme flashes across to the Singapore stock exchange and talks to one of the traders there. The markets are panicking at the realisation a Brexit may be on the cards with shares and Sterling falling from their previous exit survey highs in anticipation of the fact. Never mind: It is in the nature of the overblown markets to fluctuate; a lot of the activity will be due to traders caught wrongfooted engineering a fall so that they can 'buy the dip and ride the rebound' into profit, effectively backing both runners in a two horse race. Stocks plummet, currencies slide, and many thousands of miles away I - with the radio still whispering portentious tidings - inhabit that amorphous netherworld which lies between consciousness and sleep, surfacing now and then when a voice changes or a new announcement is made.
History is being announced count by count as the moon crawls slowly along its arc, but to be honest I doze through much it. Like my view of the moon my sense of what is happening is blurred by fatigue, much as the outcome of the result is still, but a trend appears to be establishing itself with the shires voting to Leave while the metropolitan areas want to Remain. The on-call psephologist now says he would bet his house on the UK quitting the EU; bold words indeed with the big cities yet to announce their results; they may yet narrowly swing the day.
I'm startled awake again. This time from a dream, or more accurately a memory resurfacing from long ago of a day trip to Belgium. After a tour of Bruges our party had returned to Ostende to catch a late evening fast catamaran back to Blighty. As the journey began the captain warned over the public address system we were likely to encounter force eight gales on our crossing and so we should expect choppy waters. Undaunted and with a good skin full of proper Belgian Leffe inside me, I sprawled out in an empty space between the rows of seats and slept through all but the worst of it. Only at the mid point of our journey was I aware of a roller coaster series of soaring rises and swooping falls; blearily reviving at Dover with the same slightly panicked sensation coming to evokes in me now.
Was it all a dream? Or a nightmare? Have we actually taken a bold step forward or is it a case of so close, but yet so far? Whatever the outcome the issue of Europe is going to be even more central to our lives than ever, in or out. I fumble for the radio again; its tuning disturbed by my tossing slumbers to a vacant frequency of faint white noise. What's happening now? I appear to have slept through the major urban declarations and the Remainers haven't mustered enough support to outweigh the the eurosceptic rural vote. Though the result isn't yet set in stone as the counting is still underway there can be little doubt now about the outcome: As a nation the UK has narrowly decided to leave the EU.
It's taking a while to absorb the fact. We've actually done it! I feel a stunned sense of detachment at our leap into the unknown, not to mention a sense of trepidation. Last year I wrote a dystopian short story set in a near future UK which had left the EU and become a neofascist country turning in upon itself to such an extent that its desperate citizens are driven to extreme lengths to escape the newly fortified borders. A distantly speculative piece then when any vote was expected to be 60/40 in favour of staying, it has now taken a giant step closer to becoming a prescient warning.
I'm distracted from my gloomy thoughts by Nigel Farage's victory address: As well as feeling over the moon I bet he's slightly embarrassed to have all but thrown in the towel earlier. Still that's all been swept under the carpet amid the euphoria, and in his own inimitable style he proceeds to deliver a cringeworthy speech ending "Let June 23 go down in our history as our Independence Day!" even though there are no fleets of lowering alien spacecraft to be attacked in a heroic do or die last gasp battle. The case against the European Union can be made from many political viewpoints, and although my enemy's enemy may be my momentary friend, I who detest the bloc from a progressive socialist position have felt uneasy with my temporary right wing allies throughout this campaign; especially at toe curling times like now. Even the expected abrupt end to David Cameron's prime ministerial term as a consequence of his reckless political miscalculation doesn't give me any kind of satisfaction. Having the Bacon Botherer's reputation permanently scarred as 'The Man Who Completely F****d It Up And Lost Europe' is scant justice for the millions of people whose lives have been blighted by his government's vindictively cruel policies.
At least this result will be a vindication of the stand taken by the late Steve Thoburn and the other Metric Martyrs. The impoverished Greeks can also see this as a form of revenge for the way their oxi to austerity was contemptuously brushed aside by the Eurocrats. Schadenfreude's a bitch eh, Frau Merkel! Maybe this will be the first of many cracks in the European monolith; perhaps it won't be case of will the UK take this advisory decision as binding and leave the Union, but will the Union last long enough for there to be an entity to Brexit from? Could the EU disintegrate as a result of its internal tensions, defaulting as the Soviet Union did 25 years ago into a Commonwealth of Independent States?
The airwaves are full of astonished reaction, with europhile politicians in disbelieving shock as the worm turns and their lofty ideals are razed to the ground. From Brussels the reporter describes how the initial mood of celebration in the bars around the Commission building at the exit poll has vanished, along with the patrons, as the startling truth became apparent.
Giving up on any chance of a dawn nap now I grab my tablet and log on to social media. My exposure to it is limited; maybe that explains the lack of friends' reactions. They might still be sleeping, or too shocked to post anything at the moment. I message in French the wall of a friend who has lived in the UK for more than thirty years, saying that despite the result he always remains welcome here. Then offer a virtual hug of comiseration to another friend who is a vociferous Remainer. I understand her point of view, her fears what feeble social protections are guaranteed by european legislation will be stripped away along with the loss of EU grants to the struggling regions, but I don't share them. This isn't an enlarged swingers' dinner party where national sovereignty is 'pooled' like car keys deposited on a plate in the middle of the table; this is an organisation so corrupt the refusal of its own tame auditor to sign off its accounts has become an annual farce. Far from being the expression of what can be achieved as a part of a common entity being greater than by ourselves alone, the EU has become the example of everything wrong with international institutions.
In any case I don't support the idea of clinging to something rotten to the core for fear of encountering still worse problems beyond its illusory 'protection'. Freed from the EU's overarching labyrinthine beaurocracy, politicians from across the spectrum will no longer have the "Brussels made us do it, and there's no way we could avoid implementing it." excuse for their actions. It will be up to we the electorate to hold them to account; to insist that support for our poorer areas is maintained when the euro grants (what little is left of our money once it has been inefficiently recycled through the European Social Fund in any case) are withdrawn, and the scant legal safeguards are upheld. If we fail in our duty the fault will be as much ours as theirs.
In any case I think we've been precogniscant to take to the lifeboat while the ship is steaming full speed ahead for the rocks. My attitude to Brexit is like that to my disability, it is no triumph - no tragedy. Somehow in our typically British manner we'll muddle our way through and make the best of it. We don't have any other choice but to do so. We're a plucky, resilient people; we've had to be to endure what governments of both parties have inflicted upon us these last few decades: We can Take It. Who knows we may even prosper outside the EU, although it won't be the free marketeering paradise of entrepreneurial milk and honey some Leavers are hoping for. Nor do I think healing a nation so obviously divided is going to be as easy as sending a conciliatory message.
The moon's light is dimming now as day breaks. Our satellite is setting on a different nation to that it rose over just a few hours ago. The early morning is lightening with hints of a clear, piercingly blue summer sky redolent of Skylarks and a future of unlimited possibilities. Unlike the blustery rain of polling day, this Friday is forecast to be a pleasantly warm and sunny day. I could take this as an allegory of better times ahead but I'm not labouring under any delusions. I'm not anticipating the money saved from our EU subscription will instead be channelled into the health service. I'm expecting only more broken promises from the bastards who've been screwing us these past few years. I know only too well it isn't we who have 'got our country back' but They who have 'reclaimed' our nation, and it is likely to be an unfamiliar, unsettling, and quite likely an unpleasant place in which to live during the coming years. However I think that having rid ourselves of a supranational parasitic political class our attention will now focus on our domestic version of the same; those vermin are going to find themselves living in times as interesting as the rest of us.
With the sunrise comes the formal BBC prediction the Leave campaign are victorious. In an almost exact reversal of the exit polls the world has officially been turned upsiide down, but I on the 'winning' side feel no triumphalist elation, only an empty lack of emotion. It may have a lot to do with my cynical contempt for the whole process. I wonder if this isn't so much a case of a popular groundswell overwhelming even a rigged ballot, but all of us being conned by a masterstroke of the elite; the black clad puppeteers pulling the strings so subtly we powerless masses don't even realise we've been fooled again.
Swarms of thoughts are swirling around my mind. God help us Boris Johnson might be Prime Minister soon! And on the subject of buffoons with terrible barnets, if this can happen, then maybe Donald Trump can win the Republican nomination and go on to become president. A mentally ill leader's gauche foreign policy leading to not one, but two regional nuclear wars was part of the back story to a novel I wrote. I really hope I'm not developing a latent psychic ability!
I must rise and begin my routine on this momentously historic day. At this time we should all take stock of the decision we have made, where it will lead us, and soberly gird our loins to deal with the challenges which will lie ahead with our innate dignity, to seize the moment with a grim determination... And yet my inventive mind can't dismiss an adapted version of Bjørge Lillelien's ecstatic football commentary delivered upon Norway's defeat of England 2-1 in the 1982 World Cup qualifiers it has composed. "Europe! Europe! Birthplace of a superstate! Angela Merkel, Jean-Claude Juncker, Mario Draghi, Fishing Quotas, Wine Lakes, Butter Mountains, Paper Olives, Bent Bananas, Stupid Regulations, Null points from the Polish jury in the Eurovision Song Contest - we have beaten them all! We have beaten them all! Donald Tusk, can you hear me? I have a message for you! Your boys took a hell of a beating!"