Messy and victorious: a night of Brexit

I went to the Houses of Parliament last night as Big Ben rung eleven, and Britain began the official process of leaving the European Union. What I experienced was a messy, vulgar display of Britain’s best and worst. It was loud, dirty, depressing and euphoric. 

Hopping through a muddy field littered with beer cans, scattered Prosecco bottles and old cigarette packages, I eyed out a woman in a white fur hat. This was a bad decision, as I was wearing white canvas shoes. In front of a grandly lit House of Parliament, she stood out from the crowd. Between her and Parliament, a row of flags swayed oddly calmly above the rowdy crowds. She looked almost glamorous in that English kind of way, where the pearls are a bit too big, and the coat a bit too white.  

It was noisy, and there was smoke everywhere, from cigarettes, weed and fireworks. People were chanting, singing, and stumbling across the street to pee in alleyways between buildings. 

“We don’t hate foreigners, nor the rest of the world. In fact, we love other cultures, and want them to have their own identity. We don’t hate Europe, it’s the European Union.”

The woman in the white coat stood with a funny group of people – a combination of family, friends and people she had met there on the night. I asked them: “How long have you been against the European Union?”

Anna, a tall girl with glasses whom she met on the night, leaned in and answered quickly: 

“Since I was twelve years old. I read an article about the Common Agricultural Policy and just thought, this is unbelievable”. 

Whereas the woman in the coat looked like the kind of girl who would take her heels off from the club to the bus stop, Anna had a pleasant, calming voice: it was a bit awkward, with small quick breaths, and with her glasses she seemed oddly endearing.  

“For a long time, our hands were tied. We’d use the European Union as an excuse. Brexit has removed that. It is now our politicians’ responsibility. And we can vote them out,” added a man standing in our circle. 

It was difficult to get a word in edgewise. Between analyses of World War One, the Iranian Revolution and the British constitution, small comments came out like “the EU raped Greece”. 

And this was the constant problem: taking seriously what people wanted to get across, and catching what people actually said. Somehow, they managed to link the decline in secularism in Iran after the revolution with Brexit. As I ransack my notes, I still am unsure how they made this connection.

Along the edge of the muddy grass patch, a man was standing with a sign reading “Frexit”. But before I had the chance to ask him about his flag, a woman wrapped in the Union Jack hijacked me. I noticed her first as she walked past moments before, but intrigued by my notebook and perhaps my demeanour, she came back quickly.  Her name was Joanne; she was there alone. 

“Are you from a political family?” I asked her.

“No,” she replied. “This was the first time I voted.” 

I must have looked shocked. Joanne was in her mid-fifties, I’d guess. 

“I am not a political person,” she said, joyously, “but the vote out will bring joy and unity”. 

She explained how she felt that the country she had grown up in had lost its identity – and consequently, without saying it, it was clear a bit of hers had gone too. She talked about how the decision to leave demanded us to “be strong”, how the country “didn’t feel complete”, and how people “felt annexed”. I wondered silently as she talked, whether she ever felt annexed, incomplete and vulnerable. 

I liked Joanne, and Anna and the woman in the white coat. Joanne was glowing.  She looked genuinely happy, and although she had the same one-liners as everyone else I spoke to, she did not seem like she was trying to impress her friends or the political allies surrounding her. Exceptionally, she wasn’t drunk either.  

There was however, another side of the story too. A darker side, a more sinister underbelly of the beast. Meet for example, John, the Irish Catholic Jewish man, who believed that Jesus will return to Britain after Brexit. He thinks Israel is the homeland, and that Jesus is the prophet the Jewish people have been waiting for. John saw Brexit as the beginning of the end; a fulfilment of the prophecy. 

“Prophecy is not as complicated as people think it is. It is based on common sense”. 

“Britain is in the war of Armageddon, and Christ will come back in the like of mankind”. 

As I thought I had spoken to John long enough about death and gloom, I walked towards the tube. Passing the crossing, another flag caught my eye: “REMOANERS ARE TRAITORS”. 

He stood bathed in a cloud of flashes from cameras, police reflective vests and their cars. I counted ten policemen around him and his wife as I approached him. 

“What should be the appropriate punishment for remoaners?” I asked. He did not understand. “Since traitors are usually given harsher punishments, what should be the punishment for remoaners?”

His wife looked at me, bored and tired of probably a thousand officious young students: “It’s ironic,” she said. Next to them, a guy was being shuffled away by the police; he had probably been harassing them all night too.

This is the frightening side. The anger. The constant doublespeak; the refusal to accept accountability. In the same breath they talk about national pride and political accountability, they talk about hijabs and revolution, about traitors. So it is hard to separate the reasonable ones, from the – erhm – unreasonable ones. 

Walking away from the crowds, who were slowly separating outside the Houses of Parliament, I pondered what to focus on in this article. There were lovely, normal people, and drunken lads, who yelled and pushed each other. I walked around, both attracting attention and being completely irrelevant. It was as if there was a glass wall between me and my Brexit, and them and their Brexit. This was not my victory to celebrate, nor had it been my battle to fight. But the victorious celebrated, messily, happily, British-ly. 


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