By Anita Graafland
Much has been written about the first anniversary of the final divorce between the UK and the Continent, many well-researched and expert articles can be found all over the broadsheet press. We’ve read about trade, about fish, about worker shortages, about troubles with the Irish. It’s been a year of fears becoming facts, all against the backdrop of the pandemic, and many obscured by the effects of Covid-19. Our Yorkshire fellows-in-arms are keeping track of a long list of Brexit downsides, based on the now infamous pronouncement by David Davis that there would be no downsides to Brexit, only considerable upsides. Yorkshire Bylines now puts the downsides at 507 – I have yet to see a list of upsides. Check them out here.
Of course, for me, Brexit is deeply personal and, like our Brexit Story author this month, I’ve seen my life turned upside down by Brexit, and mostly not for the better. Reflecting back on the referendum, Brexit and what it has wrought, the article I remember best from all the reading I’ve done was one written by the founder of the Dutch publication De Correspondent, as it helped me, a fish in the water that is Europe, understand what Europe was – and still is. Have a read if you want to know exactly what I’m on about. For those of us too busy, a summary of the author’s points is in the headline “The British are going to miss the continent. Not for what Europe is, but for what it is not.” The article tells us that Europe is precisely what it has lost – and what the British by Brexiting have now reinstated: borders to cross, worries, foes, etc. In the article’s words “In short, what makes Europe Europe is that which you don’t see when it’s all around you and only notice when it’s not. Peace, freedom, security, prosperity: all things that make life smoother, easier, more carefree. And that, I think, is the most important reason Europe has ‘no story,’ and so few of us feel ‘European’: the more successful Europe is, the less you notice it.”
By the way, have you noticed how many more British people now call themselves “European” than do their counterparts on the Continent? It’s because they’ve been thrown out of the water. And just in case you wonder why I keep talking about fish and water, here’s how the article ends.
“Maybe you know the one about the two fish, as told by writer David Foster Wallace, who encounter another fish swimming the other way. The lone swimmer greets the two with a hearty, ‘Morning boys, how’s the water?’ The two fish look at each other in confusion. Then one leans over to the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’
Europe is that water.”