A pragmatic decision was made by the people of the United Kingdom last year, to jump the listing European Union tanker and make a bid for freedom. Following the referendum, relieved and optimistic voters around Britain have been looking forward to a future which is both global and sovereign.
There have manifested though, pockets of the country in which the door has been slammed shut, the curtains drawn, and upon which a fog of impenetrable gloom has descended. In these bunkers of despondency, inhabitants see no future, for themselves, their families, or their country, and spend their days weeping over postcards of Tuscany, slurping Merlot from the bottle, and desperately hammering out Facebook missives on the perils of isolationism.
This is Remain Britain, and it’s a bleak landscape. I decided to take a trip around the maudlin, Brussels-fetishizing enclaves, and speak to the people who can’t move on. The 4.8%.
My first stop was Cambridge, where I met Rupert, a diversity training and green sustainability officer. He was in the corner of a quiet pub poring over a copy of the New European, and sniffing at a thin glass of gluten-free craft IPA. I asked him what he foresaw for the country.
“I’m very well educated. I know things. All this will be gone soon, like tears in rain.”
I pushed him for details.
“As an open-minded Liberal Democrat of no political bias, I’ve assessed that it was lies, all lies, and they didn’t know what they were voting for, except for the lies, which they liked very much.”
I tried to elicit more.
“It was the message… on the bus. They implicitly trust buses and anything written on them. Why didn’t we get a bus too?”
Cutting the conversation short, I made my excuses and moved on. The next interviewee was Jemima, an artisan patissier. I asked her why she thought the majority had opted for Leave.
“They didn’t.” She replied, “it wasn’t 52%, it was far fewer. About half a percent or something, taking into account the whole population.”
Was she including babies and children in this reckoning?
“God yes, obviously, my children live and breathe the EU.”
And everyone else’s?
“Yes, mine do. Mine. Me. And besides, most of the people who voted Leave are dead now anyway, from old age or stupidity or something. But I’m not dead am I? Me, here, me, am I? Am I dead? Am I?”
I started to speak, but was cut off.
“Me. Mine. I. Me.”
Jemima started twitching, and I realised she wasn’t looking at me. Her eyes were glassy and unfocused, drawn to some indeterminate point behind my head.
“Me, me, me…”
Her whole body was stiff and jerking convulsively, and I noticed her fists were clenched by her sides. Her fingernails, which were painted in the blue and yellow of the EU flag, were digging sharply into her palms. She was rocking slightly, brow furrowed, and her voice had become rasping.
“Meeeeee…” she grated mechanically, still staring dead ahead, as I slowly edged around her and backed out of the shop.
Feeling unsettled, I drove on to my next stop, an appointment with a renowned professor at the university. Sinking into a well worn armchair in his office, I asked him how the country could move forward together, and if the schisms could be healed.
“We will fight this, we will resist, I will not be cowed.”
But with Article 50 having been triggered and negotiations entered into, I queried whether it wasn’t time to be more conciliatory.
“It hasn’t been triggered! I mean, it has, but it means nothing, we’re not leaving. And even if we leave, we won’t leave. It means nothing whether they say we’re in the EU or not, I will never accept that we’re not in the EU. We’re in the EU.”
I was a little taken aback, but explained that it was now inevitable that we were leaving.
“We’re in the EU. We’re not leaving.”
I wanted to change the line of conversation, but hesitated upon noticing a tremor shiver through the professor’s frame, which had become noticeably rigid. I took a breath and opened my mouth to shape another question.
“We’re not leaving,” he repeated before I could ask anything. His words were ejected staccato, accompanied by a shuddering bodily spasm. His left shoulder started to jerk back and forth, and he droned, again, “We’re. In. The EeeeYu.”
I shifted my body to the side of my chair, keeping my gaze fixed on him, but his eyes continued to stare straight forward at the space I had vacated.
“Brussels. Strasbourg. Juncker. Brandy. Brussels. Strasbourg. Juncker. Brandy.”
He was shaking constantly now, shoulders jerking, bushy grey-topped head trembling violently. His voice was completely monotone, but increasing steadily in volume.
“WE’RE NOT LEAVING. WE’RE NOT LEAVING…”
Dropping my cup of tea I made a dash for the door, slamming it shut behind me and moving at speed down the corridor, the professor’s looped proclamation fading as I stumbled down a staircase and out into the bright afternoon sunlight.
As I jumped into my car and sped away, a swelling urge to get out of Cambridge overwhelmed me completely. Not until I was well past the city’s edges and heading south did the tension subside. I took a deep breath and let the nervousness fully dissolve, leaving me with a listless sense of drained puzzlement.
I was calm but it wasn’t to last, as with each mile of road consumed a sense of imposing dread grew within me.
There was no escaping the fact that I was going to Brighton.