Watching the drama of Brexit from abroad is a disorienting experience. The proroguing of parliament, the deadline extension and general election mania has wholly enthralled the British media these past few months. While those living on the island of Ireland will experience inevitable shockwaves from the results of the upcoming general election and whatever the final deal brokered in Brussels is, I can’t help but think of England, my family, and my former life there.
I have been living away from England for over two years, and this period has been witness to undoubtedly the most seismic political turnover for Britain during my lifetime. The referendum was held on 23 June 2016, meaning that as I was 17, I was not eligible to vote on the changing course of my then-country’s future. Instead, I witnessed the migration of thousands of older Britons to the polling stations in a move to isolate Britain from the EU, a decision richly fuelled by misguided political rhetoric and an idealistic eurosceptic narrative promulgated by the right-wing parties of Britain. Now famous is the “£350 million a week” Brexit bus, funded by those looking to exploit the referendum, mindless of the repercussions for the people of Britain. This is not to lay the blame solely at the feet of British politicians, however. Those who were amenable to targeted scare-mongering around mass, unchecked immigration and an exaggerated characterisation of a parasitic European Union must now accept the reality of the choice they made by voting Leave. To a 17-year-old focusing on the up-coming final year of A-Levels, Brexit was a confusing political minefield, driven by an increasingly polarised media and an alienating generational divide.
“Casting my vote from abroad positions me as a distant spectator observing my country’s political future play out from afar.”
Three years on, and I am unfortunately well acclimated to the party rhetoric which drove Britain’s choice in the first place. From my Dublin accommodation, I have become used to reading about the paradoxically far-off, but all too close to home, events surrounding the British parliament, the installation of Boris Johnson, his unlawful attempt to prorogue parliament and, now, his floundering after a further extension of Brexit. The cherry on top of this year will be a climactic general election on December 12, and once again Britain must decide in what direction the country will be led in its future relationship with Europe. I plan on voting by proxy, but the experience of casting my vote via a validation form sent from abroad somewhat isolates me from the process. Ideally, I would like to be there in person to vote, in a way that I was unable to the first time around. Casting my vote from abroad positions me as a distant spectator observing my country’s political future play out from afar.
Watching the Brexit story as it’s told by Irish news outlets feels separated from the party politics I’m used to seeing in the British media. The political discussions I have around Brexit are mostly with Irish people, some justly condemning the hypocrisy of the Brexit narrative and the fallacy of the proceedings, and others who, while obviously invested, don’t share my same personal terror about the upcoming January 31 deadline. It is not the same as the shared solidarity of fear, ridicule and exhaustion I have become familiar with when I come home to England over the holidays. This communal frustration is perhaps the only remaining bastion of faith left in such a disjointed socio-political climate. My isolation from that environment has reinforced my lapse in patriotism, as I have instead looked for comfort away from British narratives, finding comfort in my Irish friends and the shared experience of watching, and disapproving, of “the Brits at it again”.
“As a Briton living abroad, you’re bombarded by unfavourable media coverage and frustratingly isolated from the situation, making the connection you might have once felt with (either side of) the Brexit narrative increasingly hard to find.”
As a Briton living in Ireland, I am well-acquainted with a cultural sentiment which does not always look favourably on the English. This in mind, watching the chaos of Brexit unfold from afar, away from Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democratic bombardment, it’s strange to find myself partaking in a sort of collective bafflement. Back home, I would likely be joining in on the berating of the Tories and UKIP, but over here I find myself questioning the actions even of the parties such as Labour or the Liberal Democrats, which I once felt firmly aligned with. The unhealthy branches of eurosceptic sentiment, primarily anti-immigration and xenophobia, promulgated by Leave rhetoric speaks to an uncomfortable attitude prevalent, though not exclusive to, Leave voters. The perception that Leave voters are accurate representations of the population of my home country makes me angry. I do not see the people of Britain this way but, by experiencing Brexit news through the lens of Irish media, I am offered a strange, new, and not overly positive view of England.
I feel disconnected from the political situation, and disconnected from the discourse surrounding it. If I was living at home, I would regularly discuss the unpredictable vicissitudes of Brexit with my family, but here I feel distanced. National identity is secured by pride in your country, and watching Brexit unfold from abroad, in a country already prone to anti-British sentiment, disconnects me from any strong former feelings of patriotism. Being unable to contribute to the political discussion at home, while being similarly alienated from the dialogue concerning the Irish perspective on Brexit, means that living abroad has catalysed the distancing within me from England and its values.
Brexit has made England the laughing stock of Europe. As a Briton living abroad, you’re bombarded by unfavourable media coverage and frustratingly isolated from the situation, making the connection you might have once felt with (either side of) the Brexit narrative increasingly hard to find. After the Leave vote it has been harder and harder for me to stand by the sentiment that I’m proud to be British, and the fiasco surrounding Britain’s political future only complicates the reasons I once held for being proud of my country.