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Brexit via Bonn

Kate Brady, Bonn
June 24, 2016

Both home and away, the "Brexit" result in the UK's EU referendum came as a blow to "Remain" supporters everywhere. DW's Kate Brady gives her account of the "Brexit" from the western German city of Bonn.

Deutsche Welle Mitarbeiterin Kate Brady
Image: K. Brady

Everyone remembers those moments. Moments in history, whether it's a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, a death in the world of pop culture - or a political catastrophe. Where were you on 9/11? Where were you the day Bowie died? Where were you the day 52 percent of the UK population killed off their own country?

Whether the UK decided "Remain" or "Leave" in the EU referendum, going to bed on June 23, one thing was clear: the world we would be waking up to would very different from the day before.

Tossing and turning, I was reminded of that feeling you get on Christmas Eve; that skewed logic that says: "The sooner you go to bed, the sooner the day will come."

Only this time, I was petrified that all I'd be waking up to come "Christmas Day" would be a bag of coal. Not only did I wake up to a whole sack of it, but apparently the Grinch came overnight, ripped down the Christmas tree with its 12 golden stars, taking the [Brussel] sprouts with him as he left.

Britain votes to leave EU

Six a.m. in Bonn and the outcome back home was almost set in concrete. A pinch on the arm, copious amounts of coffee and an ice-cold shower later, it was clear that I wasn't about wake up again to the news that I - like 48 percent of UK voters - had so desperately hoped for. Instead, I was left with the same sickening feeling in my empty stomach, which, for the last three days, had been curdling out of sheer nerves.

"Remain," I'd told myself, and I'd be swinging by the bakery on Friday morning to treat the newsroom to fresh croissants and warm pretzels for breakfast. Then came the push message: "Britain votes to leave EU" - followed by a polite reminder from every other news app under the sun. Just in case you missed it the first time. No croissants. No pretzels. Just a flying iPhone and damp mascara.

It was only as I stepped onto Bonn's underground that I realized I hadn't gone by bike - my thumb going into overdrive as I frantically scrolled through the latest news. Sardined into the early morning tube, I suddenly heard a little "Scheiße" over my shoulder. Turning round, a burly German in his 50s nodded at my phone. "Sorry," he said, with an awkward smile. My eyes began to well up - not for the first time that morning, and most certainly not the last.

Working in an international newsroom comes, naturally, with its fair share of devastating news: bombings, terrorist attacks, plane crashes, natural disasters. But never have I experienced such a somber mood as on Friday. "It's not as if someone's died," I later saw someone tweet. The heavy weight in the newsroom said different.

Arriving at 7:20 a.m., I reminded myself I had a job to do, but my British humor had been defeated. No GIF, no pun, not even a rendition of ABBA's "Knowing Me, Knowing EU" was going to make any good out of the situation.

Passing the security desk, I mustered up a "Morgen."

"Sorry, Frau Brady," replied the security guard, "I'm sorry."

Germans, Americans, colleagues I knew by name, colleagues I knew only by face - everyone I met throughout the day greeted me with the same apologetic smile.

'Little Britain'

Then came the phone calls, the continuous stream of texts, all sharing their shock and varying degrees of nausea and tears. Messages from "well-wishers" and concerned friends from every corner of the world.

But with every message came the same words: "Sorry." Sorry for what? Because I feel like the one that should be apologizing. I should be the one making the excuses for 52 percent of the UK population who voted in favor of turning their backs on a union that was 43 years in the making; of closing the door on arguably the greatest peace project in history.

Instead, "Little Britain" has cleared the path for Europe's right-wing populists, who were reveling in the UK's decision on Friday morning, with France's National Front the first off the starting blocks to call for a similar referendum - a "Frexit" if you will.

Woman in London in the rain
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/F. Gentsch

Across the EU, what the future holds for us expats remains unclear. At least for now I can find comfort in the handful of marriage proposals I've received from friends in the EU on Friday: "Just in Case." Move over Tinder, here comes Nigel "Cupid" Farage.

Goodbye Dave

Back home, it's time to face the music. Our prime minister has effectively - and inevitably - resigned, paving the way for an ultra-Tory government. His promise of an "In/Out" referendum ahead of the last general election has ultimately been his greatest downfall.

Plummeting stocks, jobs losses, renegotiating trade laws - this is just the beginning. Not only has the UK selfishly ripped a hole in the side of the EU, but its own domestic union is at just as much risk.

Boris, Nigel, Michael - the Three less-than-swashbuckling Musketeers of the "Leave" campaign - declared on Friday that the result of the referendum was a "clear message" that UK voters wanted to leave the EU.

Never would I question anyone's democratic right to vote, but a win of 52 percent is not a "clear message." Fifty-two percent is a message that says almost half of us wanted to remain in the EU. Fifty-two percent is a message that confirms not only to ourselves, but also to the rest of the world what many of us had long suspected and long feared: we are no longer the United Kingdom of Great Britain, but a divided one.

With "Scottish Independence Referendum 2.0" on the horizon, there are uncertain days ahead for the UK. But the divides are deeper than borders. Amid the political mess that is the EU referendum, entire countries, entire groups of Brits have been pitched against each other. Most devastatingly perhaps is the long-lasting, irreconcilable disappointment dumped on the British youth by many of their elders. "We did it for the younger generations," they said. "We did it for the future."

And so we, the younger generations, will be left to pick up the pieces. Cobbling together the remains of the mess left behind. We may have left the EU, but it doesn't mean we've lost our principles. Devastated, it's time to stand up, brush ourselves down and carry on. Heartbroken, we need to ensure that despite our departure from the EU, the intolerance and schoolyard political rhetoric that fueled delusion and skepticism throughout the referendum campaign doesn't become the norm.

In the meantime, we wait - reassured at least that out of all of this, we might soon have a lovely blue passport.

For all it was worth: #VoteRemain.

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