As a Remainer I felt completely lost after the Brexit vote. I was actually in Vietnam at the time so had voted by proxy. Due to being 6 hours ahead, when the results came in I was sitting eating breakfast with some other travellers I’d met at the hostel; two Irish women, a Dutchwoman, a Frenchman, and an Australian guy. I felt so ashamed of my own country that morning. I kept apologising to the Europeans at the table, assuring them that I had not voted for this, and that this did not represent me and that I was, very much, still European. That was the moment I realised that my identity as a European was far stronger than my identity as a Brit.
Brexit had done what the European Union had been trying, without much success, to achieve since the ‘90s: create a firm sense of pan-European identity.
Pre-Brexit, it’s not that people didn’t recognise European values, or even that they were fundamentally against the European Union, but rather that they weren’t particularly excited by the idea of a political union. And who can blame them? Much of the vitally important work that the EU does goes on behind closed doors and is wrapped up in legal jargon, which is not always the most inspiring reading!
However, as happens so often in life, you just don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone – and it’s a lesson the United Kingdom is learning the hard way. Many Leave campaigners gleefully predicted that Brexit would weaken the EU, and cause other Member States to follow suite. But they were wrong. We are actually seeing the opposite effect, with many Euro-sceptic parties across Europe now dialling down their anti-EU rhetoric. So why is this?
Brexit is providing a prime example of just how much the EU does for Europe. Europe enjoys tariff-free trade, free movement of people, enshrined human rights and so much more thanks to the EU. When you enjoy these benefits every day, they seem to fade into the background and can easily be taken for granted. However, when they are removed it quickly becomes clear just how much European countries rely on these principles to run smoothly.
I think we can all agree that Brexit has been an unmitigated disaster, yet one positive to come out of it is the formation of an incredibly strong transnational identification movement, which is embodied by #FBPE. When I joined the #FBPE community, I was relieved to find that I was not alone in my newfound identity dilemma – plenty of Brits also felt that Brexit Britain did not represent them. In addition, there were plenty of other European nationalities who wanted to avoid their own, rather hilarious, portmanteaus (Quitaly and AdiEU being some of my favourite suggestions!).
When I started studying a Masters in European Studies, many scholars claimed that a ‘European Identity’ was impossible. I knew I had to do some more research into this, given the strength of the #FBPE movement. My findings show that, ironically, Brexit has brought us together in ways Euro-sceptics could have never imagined. To quote Jo Cox, “we have far more in common than that which divides us” and – no matter the legal status of our country – we will always be European.
Here are the links to my research:
Author: Lilia Prelevic – @LiliaPrelevic