“Brexit simply won’t do” | What Hard Borders Mean For Me and For You

You’re a stuffy, uptight middle class voter living in a nice house somewhere in Surrey. You voted for New Labour when you were younger and optimistic, but voted for David Cameron’s version of Conservatism in the wake of the economic crash. You liked the brand of Conservatism-Lite which he epitomised, considering him and his party a safe pair of hands.

Fast forward to 2017. Your beloved David has been banished to the political wilderness, and his replacements are determined to push through a hard-Brexit, which you voted against. The weak pound made your annual Christmas ski trip in the French Alps more expensive than it should have been, your gay son’s dream of relocating to Paris to work in fashion could become massively complicated if the UK leaves the EU, and the bank your husband works for is talking about moving to Ireland to maintain access to the single market.

Ireland! Of all places. You’ve never been, and indeed you liked Terry Wogan on the television, but you still wouldn’t like to live there. You’ve heard they don’t even have Waitross. Your husband could live there during the week and fly home at the weekends you suppose, but how could you ever trust him again after the affair he had with that awful woman from the tennis club? Brexit simply won’t do.

You throw a dinner party and invite the leaders of the main political parties, hoping for some reassurances. Jeremy Corbyn shows up with a cheap bottle of wine, and sulks in the corner mumbling the words “Trotsky” and “Red Army” over and over. Teresa May spends the whole dinner on the phone to Donald Trump, laughing at his jokes and grovelling for a trade deal. She only interrupts her conversation with the US President once, to call your son a “poof.” Nigel Farage arrives drunk and only gets drunker, before exposing his penis to the room and roaring “independence day!” Tim Farron said he come but hasn’t shown up, because breaking promises gives Liberal Democrats wild, sexual pleasure. You end the evening feeling abandoned, dejected. Perhaps Ireland won’t be so bad.  

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You’re a Muslim teenager living in Hackney, East London. Your parents are from Jordan, and though you were born here your Britishness feels like something of an abstract concept. You go to the Mosque every week with your parents but aren’t particularly religious; you’d rather stay at home playing Fifa on the box but don’t want to upset your Mum. Your favourite football team is Chelsea, and your favourite musician is Drake.

You’re not interested in politics, and the realities of Brexit seem abstract; besides a trip to Jordan when you were 6, you’ve never been outside of the country. But you know enough about it to know that according to some people, people like you and your friends are supposed to hate America, and the West in general. Your favourite restaurant is the American Chicken Stop, because the chicken wings there are amazing. The place is draped in little US flags and American imagery. You’d never thought about it before Brexit, but you’ve noticed that the customers there are almost exclusively Muslim and Middle Eastern kids from the area. It annoys you to have lies spread about you and your mates but you try not to let it get you down.

You’d like to go to Uni and study sociology but the fees are enormous so you decide to work for a few years first. Your mate gets you a job collecting glasses at an Irish bar, and though the pay is crap and the hours are long you’re glad to have it. The guys who drink there are mostly Irish men in their thirties, working jobs in finance and construction. They’re usually fine but at the weekend some of them can get rowdy, getting up on the tables and singing songs about rebellion and the IRA. You googled what the IRA meant and Wikipedia said they used to plant bombs around London, yet you’re the one who will get “randomly searched” at the airport if you ever decide to leave. Nothing seems fair.

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You’re an Irish bloke in his late 20s who has just moved to London for work. Brexit has been the topic of conversation since you moved over, but the issue doesn’t trouble you much. If you were told to go back to your own country, the British would have to be very specific about where they mean, considering that they still occupy a large part of it. Which part of my country would you like me to go back to; your bit or my bit? The whole subject seems absurd, but since it’s unlikely to affect you in a meaningful way you just keep your head down and get on with your new life.

A few months in you start to feel a bit poorly, and though it’s probably just a hangover you decide to go and resister with your local GP. You’ve heard the health service here is vastly superior to what you’ve got back home, and you’re curious to see for yourself. A friendly nurse a little older than you sits you down and starts entering your details into their system. You tell her there’s no history of heart disease or diabetes in your family, and lie about the number of units of alcohol you consume each week.

Finally she asks where you were born and you tell her “Dublin.” She bites her lip self-consciously. “Sorry, is that in Northern Ireland?” You smile patiently. “No, I’m Irish. “Irish, okay…” She looks at the options on her screen, then back at you. “So, if you’re Irish…does that mean you’re British?” You keep smiling at the medical professional, who is most likely better educated than you are. “No,” you say. “I’m just Irish.” She types something on her keyboard. “Okay. Sorry, geography isn’t my strong point.” Incredible, you think to yourself. They’ve voted to reassert their borders, but they don’t even know where their borders are.

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