I have never known a Britain which has not been part of the EU. Born in 1988, I have always enjoyed freedom of movement, access to the single market, the oversight of the European Court of Justice and a sense of brotherhood with the 27 other members of the European Union. Last Thursday, the country I knew – the country I have known for my entire life – disappeared.
When I was four years old, my mum and dad took me and my toddler brother to Mallorca in Spain for a family holiday, along with my godmother and her daughter, who was a mere month younger than me. I remember walking through the airport with my jelly sandals and see through backpack, but I do not remember the Spanish officials checking my mother’s passport, which also carried information about my brother and I. When prompted by photos, I remember the waterslide which I begged to ride multiple times a day, but I struggle to remember the events which led to my brother being taken to a Spanish hospital after a head injury. After dinner, S and I would be encouraged to choose our ice cream flavours and whilst I remember the huge cones which would drip down our tiny hands, I can’t remember counting out the unfamiliar Spanish coins. This was the beginning, but for a long time, I took the benefits of the EU for granted.
Things changed a little as I got older. I remember a conversation with a family member in the supermarket, when I was about 12, where I was asked to grab some apples and put them in the trolley. When I came back with a bag full of carefully chosen apples which just happened to have come from France, I was admonished. “If the French don’t want our beef” I was told, “then we won’t be buying their apples.” It seemed pointless to point out that the French didn’t want our beef because of the risk of mad cow disease. That was the first time that I experienced negativity about our European neighbours.
By the time I was 18, I was a strong advocate for Europe. After my first year of University, my best friend and I joined two of our guy friends for a rail adventure across Europe. This was a formative summer for me: filled with German beer, Italian pizza, Hungarian wine, Dutch cheese and a very British heartbreak. I held tightly to my EHIC card, which I knew would keep me safe despite the timebomb in my chest, and I self medicated with the final Harry Potter story, written in English, bought in Vienna, final page read in Budapest. I grew into myself this summer, on a journey where we woke up every day and decided where to go next with no concerns about visas or passports or how welcome we’d feel in the next country.
And now, in St Andrews, I feel the warmth of my colleagues and fellow students within the University. According to the Acting Principal of the University, 21% of academic staff and 31% of research staff are from the EU. 13% of students at St Andrews are from the EU. 25% of annual research funding at St Andrews comes from European research grants. I do not know what will happen in the future for these staff members and students, and I am worried for them, and for the institution which they are a vital part of.
In fact, I am worried for all of us. I fly to American at least twice more this year; at the moment, I will get £12 less for every £100 I exchange to US dollars. The increase in petrol prices will not effect me immediately, but the predicted rise in food prices will. If the Bank of England reduces the interest rate, my savings become less valuable. More painful than all of these things, I feel a disconnect from my heritage, from my country and from the people I love. I no longer feel proud to call myself English: I am thankful – not for the first time – that I moved to Scotland for university, and that I have made a home there.
The Britain I knew was open-minded and open-hearted, accepting of other cultures and traditions, welcoming to the people of our neighbours and the jobs they can do, the skills that they share. The Britain I knew was united, and proud of its shared history as well as our individual strengths. The Britain I knew was part of something bigger than itself. And maybe it will be again. Maybe the future will be bright for me, and my children, and the future generations. But at the moment I am heartbroken at what is happening to the country I thought I knew, and no longer seems to exist.Carley