I think I have rarely felt as blindsided as I did on the morning of June 24th, the eve of my birthday, when I woke up and realised that Britain had voted to leave the European Union. Emotionally unprepared for such a result, tears rolled down my face as the news sunk in. Later I exchanged messages with other Brits in Reunion and quickly realised we all felt the same. Touchingly, many local friends also sympathised, some of them telling me they felt almost as bereft as I did.
It may come as a surprise to many people in Reunion to realise that British citizens lose their right to vote 15 years after leaving Britain. So here was a referendum that concerned us directly, but in which we couldn’t vote. If the one million disenfranchised British expatriates living in Europe had been able to vote, the referendum’s result would probably have been different.
Now, I may have left Britain in the early 90s, but I haven’t morphed into a ‘foreigner’. I’ve never taken French nationality, and I’ve always tried to retain ties with family and with friends from my formative years in Britain. Nevertheless, I’m also a convinced Europhile: European treaties allowed me to arrive in Reunion, back in the mists of time even before Erasmus existed. And these same treaties have allowed me to live, work (and, unfortunately, pay taxes) on the island. I was even on the list of a mayoral candidate for the municipal elections in 2008. In short, I feel as much European as I do British, and it seemed to me that embracing British, Reunionese, French and European identities has never been incompatible. On the contrary, it has been instrumental in helping me accomplish much on both personal and professional levels.
However, following the outcome of the referendum that apple cart has been thoroughly upset; even if Brexit never goes through, a lot of irrevocable damage has already been done. The referendum result is a political reality that we have to deal with one way or another, and despite a probable ten-year timetable (and £5 billion bill), changes will have to happen. I have to assume that the advantages I have enjoyed as an EU citizen living in another country will end within the next decade. To further complicate the issue, although I grew up in London I am of Scottish heritage, and two-thirds of Scotland voted to Remain. The spectre of a new Scottish Independence referendum, like the one that took place in 2014, hangs over Britain like a sword of Damocles.
A few months after the result, my initial shock over Brexit has subsided, of course. Now, it’s purely a case of wait and see.
to be blindsided – être pris de court
eve – veille
to sympathise – compâtir
bereft – endeuillé
disenfranchised – privé du droit de vote
to morph into – se métamorphoser
to retain – garder
mists of time – nuit des temps
instrumental – fondamental
outcome – issue
to upset the apple cart – bousculer quelque chose
thoroughly – profondément
to go through – se passer
to deal with – affronter
timetable – calendrier
bill – facture
to assume – admettre
decade – décennie
to be of Scottish heritage – avoir des origines écossaises
to subside – s’estomper