OPINION
31/01/2020 06:00 GMT | Updated 01/02/2020 08:19 GMT

My Heart Breaks Knowing The EU Failed At Explaining Its Importance

People voted for Brexit from their hearts, yet we argued back from our heads, former Islington mayor David Poyser writes.

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As Britain leaves the EU, I can't help but feel I've failed, David Poyser writes.

One of the few things we have gained since leaving the EU is a new English adjective “Brexitty”. I have heard it used to describe pubs in Yorkshire, or a crowd of Brits drinking in a bar in Majorca. Do not voice your liberal London views in a Brexitty bar – they will not go down well.

Central London, where my family live, is certainly not Brexitty. On 31 January, when the UK formally leaves the EU, half the houses in our street will display  the posters I have handed out of a withering flame in the middle of an EU flag.

My friends from the “Islington in Europe” group will go together to hug, cry and commiserate in the Canonbury Tavern, writer George Orwell’s local pub. At 11pm (midnight in Brussels) a gang of us will hang around outside my neighbour Cary’s house as she blasts the Brussels anthem (Beethoven’s Ode to Joy) loudly across our freezing London street. 

In contrast, on the same evening, Brexiteers will listen to (something like) the bongs of Big Ben to celebrate the UK leaving the EU, and, no doubt, spontaneously sing “Britannia Rules The Waves”. 

The next day, Islington, our local council, has organised a community event in a local park so we can console ourselves together and say to our continental European friends they are welcome and always will be. 

I personally and “Islingtonally” hope our council proudly flies the European flag till the country has another referendum taking us back in.

I would like to say I am heartbroken because our 17-year-old daughter, who has wanted to work in fashion all her life, (her totally impartial Dad thinks she is really talented), will now find it more difficult to get on a course or land a job in Paris or Milan, the European fashion centres.

I would like to say I am heartbroken because I feel ashamed to be a Brit when my Italian friend with two children in London asked if this city would be safe for foreigners on 31 January.

I would like to say I am heartbroken as my many Brit friends working in Brussels who love Britain (you should see us all watching an England, Wales or a Scotland football match in a pub in Brussels), who have dragged their “trailing spouses” to live abroad, and left family and friends in the UK, have now had their careers ruined or they are simply on a “Brussels career shelf”.

I would like to say it is because I want to look my former Brussels colleagues in the eye and say “we are all team Europe” fighting for better lives for Europe’s citizens.

There are endless reasons for despair, some private (our daughter’s school has struggled to get language teachers since Brexit) and some more public (Brits seem to be developing as many misunderstandings about the effects of Brexit as they did about which rules came from the EU and which were British law totally made for Britain by British MPs).

The greatest heartbreak, though, is my own sense of failure.

I worked for many years in Brussels, and in London, I am paid to explain what the European Parliament did. In my view, the EU has been a total failure over forty years at explaining what it is does.

Of course I “get” that people, especially Brits that feel in our guts we are “unconquered since 1066″, do not want to feel in any way subordinate to an outside power. We failed to explain that the EU was never any sort of outside power, and the regulations it was involved in were areas that governments have always regulated. 

My family and my roots are in the heart of Brexit country, the East Midlands. My Dad, who fought proudly in the Royal Navy in World War Two, is alive and, given he is now 96, in good health. He was a jeweller and spent much of his life unsuccessfully fighting to get an EU Directive (i.e. to get Brussels regulations to replace UK regulations) on a very detailed aspect of jewellery “hall-marks”. When I go and see him, I can guarantee a rant against “Brexiteers”.

People voted for Brexit from their hearts, yet we argued back from our heads saying that virtually all economists (and political Leaders in the EU) said the UK will suffer financially.

Back in the early 2000s, when we were trying to get UK businesses to come out and say that British jobs depended on the EU (as they did in our 1975 in/out referendum) none had the guts to come forward, except for the Japanese car industry based in the UK.

And this is the tragedy. My wife and I will be fine, living off pensions in the UK (and before anyone asks, my EU Pension is less, pro rata, than my pension from the BBC) and the money can simply and swiftly be moved by pension funds from an underperforming FTSE to successful companies in Singapore, for example.

As well as the absence of EU immigrant seasonal labour to pick fruit and vegetables, it is the export-based jobs that will go. The Japanese car manufacturers. The areas that voted for Brexit are tragically the ones that stand to suffer most. 

As a Brit, this breaks my heart.

Brexitty pubs will be less welcoming five years from now.

Dave Poyser was the Mayor of Islington 2018-19, and before that had various senior roles in communications teams in the European Parliament.