“I haven’t come to terms with leaving really. I had always been convinced that the October 31 deadline would never be met and when the Benn Act passed, I took it for granted that we wouldn’t be leaving this year,” says James Harrison, an ardent Remainer who works in higher education.
“The new deal came as a complete shock and it was only as I was standing in Parliament Square after the march on Saturday that I realised this could really be it.”
As people woke up to the news on June 24, 2016 that – by a hair’s breadth – the UK had voted to leave the European Union, many Remain voters were devastated.
In the days after the vote, more than 4.1 million people signed a petition demanding a second referendum. Labour’s David Lammy called on MPs to “stop this madness” and vote against the result, while thousands of protesters took to the streets of London to “march for Europe”.
People spoke of their fears about what it would mean for the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, for students wanting to study abroad, for people wanting to travel – fears that have stayed with them.
But after three years of snail-paced progress in Westminster, of endless debate and delays, of three dramatically-failed attempts by Theresa May to get her deal through parliament, Remainers say it was the news last week that Boris Johnson had managed to strike a Brexit deal with the EU that brought their fears and anxiety about leaving back to the forefront of their minds.
If Boris Johnson – who has vowed to take the UK out of the EU “do or die” on Halloween – is able to convince MPs to agree to the government’s fast-track timetable for his Brexit deal on Tuesday night, the UK could be leaving the European Union on October 31.
“I think it’s only hitting me now that we will be leaving the EU because for the last three years there has been no progress,” says 19-year-old Cardiff University student Nina White.
“Now, at the last minute, Boris Johnson shows up with a deal which will put the livelihoods of so many under threat.”
Like thousands of young people, Nina was too young to vote in the 2016 EU referendum. Now, as the country creeps closer to leaving, the fact she had no say in the UK’s decision to leave the EU is adding to her anxieties over Brexit.
“It’s incredibly frustrating to see your future taken away from you without having a say in the matter,” she says. “I will have to endure the consequences of Brexit, despite never having a chance to dictate my future.”
Nina adds: “I’m deeply anxious about how this could negatively impact my future as EU membership is all I’ve ever known. The EU isn’t perfect, but with our strong voice in the European Parliament, I believe it would be better to reform it from within, rather than just give up on a relationship which has lasted for over 40 years.”
Her worries are echoed by 31-year-old Joshua Murray-Nevill. “In the past two weeks reality has hit home and the case for remaining part of the EU has been lost – if it was ever truly and coherently made,” he says.
“Somewhere between the inability of Labour to form any kind of national government without [Jeremy] Corbyn and Johnson getting a deal, it feels like the legal momentum – compared to political action – has petered out.” Leaving the EU now feels inevitable, Joshua adds.
“That a minority government has managed this is somewhat astounding and I think it speaks volumes about the opposition, as much as anything.”
For Joshua, a heart transplant recipient, when – and how – the UK leaves the EU could have serious implications.
“One of my most important tablets is made in Ireland, so I’ve been keeping an eye on how the whole backstop/border issue plays out,” he says. “As it all comes increasingly down to the wire, the official NHS advice hasn’t really changed, yet it feels like the whole escapade could come down to the flip of a coin.”
The fact that the prime minister has a “hard and fast rule” about leaving on October 31 means it’s going to be a rushed job, says Joshua.
It’s a concern shared by opposition MPs, who have branded the government’s proposed three-day deadline for MPs to read and debate 110-page the Withdrawal Agreement “unbelievable”. In comparison, the Maastricht Treaty was debated in the Commons for 23 days.
Joshua adds: “Ultimately, I still feel as anxious as I did on the morning of the referendum, but it feels unforgivable that we’re still in the same situation about day-to-day details.”
The potential implications of Johnson’s Brexit deal are also weighing heavily on the minds of UK citizens living in the EU. Martin Caldwell, 38, has lived in Germany for the past four years.
“Now Brexit is getting closer, I’m taken back to those feelings from the day after the referendum,” he says.
“The day we finally leave and I watch our flag come down in Brussels will be a day of real sadness. I cried the day after the referendum and I’m sure I’ll cry again on leaving day.”
But there are also a “host of practical issues” to worry about, he adds, including advice from the government to register as a resident in Germany.
“Another massive worry for me is access to credit,” says Martin. “When we become third country nationals, banks will be able to treat us as non-EU citizens and charge us more for credit. That’s life-killing if you have a mortgage or a small business.”
Back in the UK, Jesper Groenvold – who emigrated from Denmark in 1998 – is more worried about how the country’s views are changing as it edges closer to Brexit.
Brexit “is a bit like when you know a friend or family member has a terminal illness,” he says. “You never know how long remission will last. Maybe this scan is the one that says it is now a matter of months/ weeks/ days.
“At the same time, there is still hope that a new cure will turn up which could significantly change the outcome.”
Jesper “seldom felt like a foreigner” when he first came to the UK, he says. “One had all the same rights as a native Brit, except for the right to vote in a general election.
“But the mood towards outsiders… has definitely changed,” he continues.
“As a Scandi you get off lightly compared to Eastern Europeans, but this has become a country of the narrow-minded – or rather the spivvy and narrow-minded people have become prominent.
“In spite of my dual citizenship, I am actively considering leaving. This is not the country I have loved since I was a teenager and my parents revered.”
Dr Pragya Agarwal, a behavioural scientist who moved to the UK from India almost 20 years ago to study at university, echoes Jesper’s worries about the country’s feelings towards immigrants – and what it could mean for her family if and when Brexit actually happens.
“For so long there has been this feeling that it will never happen, or that things will be okay – that we can have a people’s vote and people will realise their mistake,” she says.
“As a woman of colour, it is particularly terrifying for me and I’m concerned about the kind of world my children are growing up. It feels like we are losing so much of what’s good about being outward looking and open.”
Asked whether she is worried about a potential spike in hate crimes – as was seen after the 2016 referendum – after Brexit, Pragya says: “We have already seen a change in how people have become more fearful of ‘outsiders’ and foreigners, and more explicit in expressing any prejudice.
“‘Go back home’ has become more normalised. And even though I’ve lived in this country for almost 19 years now, in the past couple of years, I’ve felt more ‘othered’.
“We are putting up walls and creating a more isolationist environment, and it is possible that this would give rise to even more nationalistic politics and feeling amongst the general public.”