“Take back control”
When making new friends and talking about the recent Big Move to Amsterdam the elephant in the conversational air is Brexit. No one has mentioned it and I have tried very hard to not utter the dismal term either. But – bottom line – Brexit is why we moved.
My husband is an EU citizen and we made the decision to move to the UK before the Brexit vote. But it was 2016, the year of the holly shit!? votes. He moved a few months ahead of me to start a new job and a few weeks after his arrival the UK voted to leave the EU.
March 29, 2019 became a vaguely ominous deadline, and remained nebulous while the UK government did absolutely nothing but make up banal phrases. “A red, white, and blue Brexit,” was my particular favourite.
I personally didn’t care what colour Brexit would turn out to be, but I did care about how it would affect our career prospects, how it would affect our ability to buy a flat, and how it might affect any tiny humans we might make. Part of why we had chosen the UK was that with my husband’s citizenship he would be perfectly legal and my visa would be ensured. We began our life there with those big life goals in mind and started compiling the documents we would need to apply for permanent residency after five years.
“Brexit means Brexit”
During my entire time in the UK we received literally no information from the government regarding what might happen to EU citizens in any of their versions of Brexit, nothing about our future was guaranteed.
I used to obsessively check The Guardian a few times per day and Twitter basically every hour looking for any shred of Brexit news. I am a planner, and when I am anxious my need to plan becomes consuming. But I couldn’t formulate my plan and its many back-ups when the government didn’t have a plan either.
However, this real-world consequence bears only one part of the Brexit blame. The societal circumstances that likely lead to the Leave result have as much, if not a bit more, responsibility for our own decision to leave.
Hindsight has shown me that my idea of life in the UK was fantastical. I thought I was prepared for the class structure – I’ve seen Downton Abbey too many times and my favourite undergrad course was called British medieval Legal and Constitutional History 1066 – 1400 – but for some reason I had thought it would have diminished by the year 2016.
Alas, I was mistaken.
“In the national interest”
The class anxiety is still so real it permeates society. I didn’t even realise just how tense life was in the UK until our first night out with Tom’s colleagues in Amsterdam. It was actually relaxing to be out of my flat! I met new people and wasn’t dreaming of being back home, alone.
It is difficult to describe but I find continental Europe so much more relaxed than the UK. My hunch is that it has to do with the pernicious class system in the latter that leaves most people desperate to appear higher class than they think they are. Brexit only added to that fretful atmosphere.
This mass anxiety and uncertainty – two things that I have more than enough of in my own head – were unbearable. I began to be home-sick for Prague, or really any one of the European capitals I’d visited. In a visceral way that I’d never felt in my nearly ten years of living abroad I wanted. to. go. home.
For my husband’s part he was ready to move on from his job and Manchester was too small. Or too big… Completely un-European and unlovely in its structure and public transport offerings. We were both ready to head back to the continent.
But that is maybe the greatest thing about the EU, that we (thanks to my husband’s passport) were able to choose from 27 other countries to live in!
When March 29, 2019 actually happened I didn’t even remember Brexit was a thing until about three in the afternoon.
And when I did remember I just started laughing.