Brexit Testimonies

29 October 2017

Dave in Belgium

"I have long since given up trying to articulate a simple answer to the question; 'why are the British doing what they are doing?'"

Our day begins much like any other here in the Westhoek of Belgium. The guests at our B&B are midway through their Belgian style breakfast and I’ve been round twice with the pot of fresh coffee. Now come the moment which both my Belgian wife and I enjoy the most. Free for about an hour or so from the routine of cleaning and preparing we sit at our ease with our guests and we listen to their life stories and tell them of our own. Travel, politics, sport, hopes and dreams they all come tumbling out.

My wife and I first met in South America in the 1980’s, but that’s another story. We fell in love and lived together in the UK for over twenty years, some of which were prior to the Maastricht treaty and freedom of movement. We married and with both of us working in stable long term jobs were able to fund our yearly trips to obscure places around the world. As the first decade of the 2000’s drew to a close we decided to end our careers and set up our own modest B&B business here in a village in North West Belgium. Close enough to Bruges and many of the First World War sites this seemed like a perfect place and the perfect time to bring my wife home to Belgium and for me to start a new chapter in my life in a new country.

One of the great plus points for running a B&B, particularly if you spend time with your guests, is the relationships that form over a discussion of shared experiences. Shy, self-conscious guests arrive but leave as almost lifelong friends; and I find it fascinating that everyone has a story in them and we never tire from listening to them. However at some point in the conversation the subject of Brexit invariably comes up and I find myself for the umpteenth time trying to explain the unexplainable.

I have long since given up trying to articulate a simple answer to the question; 'why are the British doing what they are doing?' After endless research, reading of blogs, articles and official reports it seems to me that everyone who voted in the referendum had their own particular reasons / prejudices and no amount of analysis will ever pin point a root cause. That is not to say that there were not influencing factors because there were. I like many others found that the debate surrounding the referendum to be a complete shambles. Individuals shouted past each other and the truth, unfortunately, was often a major casualty in these exchanges. There was also a total lack of knowledge of and ambivalence for the EU and its institutions amongst many who voted, which was not helped by what turned out to be a totally partisan media. The result was therefore not unexpected.

For three months I raged over the stupidity of the decision, not just about the referendum result itself but of the decision to hold it in the first place and to allow a simple majority verdict to carry the day. The result was always going to end up splitting the country and open up the social & cultural divides. Urban against rural, friend against friend even family member against family member. Mending this is going to take an enormous amount of time and it may be that another generation will have to pass before we come to a settled conclusion. However what changed my view on Brexit from one of 'Let’s over turn this stupid decision' to one of 'OK I now need to find a workable solution for myself' were the words Theresa May used at her 2016 conference speech.
She said, and I quote: 'If you believe you are a citizen of the world then you are a citizen of nowhere'. I felt the impact of those words personally. For many years now I have considered myself both European and British; I am comfortable with both and do not see them as mutually exclusive. There have even been times in the past that I have adopted the 'Citizens of the World' title to describe my own outlook on the world and the journeys my wife and I have made together over the past thirty years.

To say I was disappointed by those words would be an understatement. Theresa’s clumsy attempt to distance herself from the implications of an open inclusive world made it clear to me that she wants to create a different Britain than the one I want to live in. The way forward for me suddenly became clear. To live the rest of my life where I wanted to live, in Belgium with my wife, I needed to the security of Belgian citizenship.

The process was far from simple and took the best part of seven months to complete. As expected at every stage it was down to me to do the necessary leg work and of course incur the necessary cost. I needed certification that I could speak Nederlands (Note : Vlaamse or Flemish is technically a group of dialects) to the required level and I needed to pass the cultural and integration test. On top of that I had to provide evidence of (a) being born, (b) being married and (c) living in the country for more than five years. Evidence such as UK birth certificate and marriage certificate to be less than six months old, translated in to Nederlands and countersigned by someone in the judiciary. After making a sworn statement and paying the relatively small sum of 150 Euros my application was passed to the police and other investigative bodies before it was finally accepted. I am now a dual national and feel all the happier for it.

The solution to my personal Brexit problem has brought peace of mind but has not left me clear of possible fallout. My company pension starts its life in Pounds Sterling and therefore has suffered from the Brexit induced currency devaluation. It’s in no one’s interest, particularly mine, for the British economy to collapse. I hope that whichever party ends up sweeping up the mess will have the courage and the foresight to ensure that Britain and its economy is put on a stable footing that will see it and its citizens prosper in the future.

In putting its self-back together again Britain also needs to take a good long look at itself. Particularly in regard to (a) the political structures and democratic failings of which there are many and (b) the out of control / ineffectual media. Both of these key corner stones of any society are doing a serious disservice to the general public.

Likewise a prosperous, democratic and forward looking EU, which takes on board the criticisms and concerns being levelled at it would be welcomed. If it can reform itself for the betterment of all EU nationals, that would be something positive to comes out of the Brexit debacle. With both parties on the Brexit divide changing for the better only then can we look forward to a point in time when we can have a proper debate, one base on real hard facts, about Britain re-joining the EU. I sincerely hope to see this happen in my life time.

Earlier testimony
Gill and Clive in France
Later testimony
David in Brittany
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