1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

A country in meltdown

Maaß Birgit Kommentarbild App
Birgit Maass
July 1, 2016

Surprise has turned to shock and utter confusion for many in the UK a week after the British voted to leave the EU. DW's Birgit Maass lives in London and describes her case of the "Brexit blues."

Großbritanien Brexit-Gegner demonstrieren gegen EU-Austritt des Landes
Image: Reuters/D. Martinez

This is the country where I have lived for the last 16 years, where I met my husband and where my children were born. Now the country that I call my home is in meltdown: divided between young and old, between cities and countryside, between "Outers" and "Remainers."

One week after the 52-percent to 48-percent vote, the feeling is still raw. They call it the "Brexit blues." It feels like half the country has voted against me.

London welcomes anyone from anywhere - that's how I used to feel. But will that still be the case in future?

Attacks on the long-established Polish center in London, a reported spike in abuse against ethnic minorities as well as EU citizens. A friend sent in a picture: "F... the EU" was sprayed underneath the sign of Deutsche Bank's office in London, awaiting City workers on their way to work this week. A minority is that hostile, for sure, but this minority is becoming louder than ever before.

People who voted for Brexit have different reasons, not all of them to do with immigration. I have friends who have voted "Out." They are not racists. I know they don't want me out of the country.

Maaß Birgit Kommentarbild App PROVISORISCH
Birgit Maass reports for DW from London

"It is not against you," people keep assuring us Europeans living in the UK. While I was reporting outside the Houses of Parliament the day after Britain decided to leave, a young man walked up to me and said, "I am ashamed of my country." Those were exactly the same words my neighbor used a few days later. "They deserve to lose in the European Cup", my husband quipped, and his wish was granted.

Is it "us" against "them" from now on?

Even a week after the results, I am still struggling to come to terms with the vote, and so are many others around me. Why on earth did this happen?

Where I live, in Central London, it takes roughly four weeks to get an appointment with our local family doctor - even longer to see a specialist - and when you do get a rare appointment, you'll hear a variety of languages in the waiting room. Rents have gone through the roof, not to mention astronomical property prices. It's easy to blame immigrants, and overlook the flood of foreign capital from Russia, Asia and the Middle East. It's easy to forget EU migrants are net contributors in taxes, and that government cuts have increased the pressure on schools and hospitals. Those are facts the Vote Leave campaigners did not mention.

It feels like this country that used to be one of the world's most stable democracies is imploding. The government and the opposition are effectively leaderless, while the economy is taking hit after hit and the demagogues are triumphing. Scotland and Northern Ireland are weighing their options whether to separate from England and Wales.

Großbritannien Brexit-Gegner demonstrieren gegen EU-Austritt des Landes
Pro-EU demonstrations took place across the UK this week, more are planned this weekendImage: Reuters/D. Martinez

There is a feeling of unrest, and this weekend will see more demonstrations against Brexit in different British cities. I fear that not all of them will remain peaceful.

It is a shame that such pro-European passion had not found a more positive outlet before the referendum. The Remain campaign did not have many positive things to say about the EU. They were mainly stoking fear that Britain would be worse off if it left.

Leave's passion vs. Remain's statistics

Arron Banks, a prominent Vote Leave donor, boasted that he brought emotion to the campaign, while the Remain campaigners were busy sticking to the facts.

Vote Leave had the passion - Remain had statistics. And Vote Leave were not shy bending the truth, for example by driving a bus through the country which claimed that 350 million pounds a week was going to Brussels - ignoring the fact that roughly half of it comes back to the UK.

It is now clear the Vote Leave had no plans for achieving an independent UK, and that many of its promises and half-truths are now unraveling. The money that went to Brussels will not be spent on building new hospitals as promised - but it is too late, the damage has been done.

Once we have a new prime minister, his or her main task will be to negotiate the UK's new relationship with the EU. Maybe Boris Johnson, the front man for Leave, has belatedly realized how difficult that will be and - refusing to clean up the mess he made - has ruled himself out as new party leader.

Will Britain still be able to retain access to the EU's single market, as Johnson and other Leave leaders repeated throughout their campaign?

Signals from Brussels do not support the optimism Leave exuded over a week ago. The negotiations will be long and tough. If Britain does not get the desired outcome, blame will, again, fall on the EU for wanting to punish Britain.

This week, commemorations begin to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, one of the largest and bloodiest battles of the First World War. Unfortunately, the EU as a peace project, has never been advocated here in Britain. If someone had done that job, many of us would probably not find ourselves still suffering from the Brexit blues.

Have something to say? Add your comments below. The comment thread closes automatically 24 hours after going online.

Maaß Birgit Kommentarbild App
Birgit Maass DW UK Correspondent@birgit_maass