And finally, it’s here. Brexit Day has arrived.
At 11pm London time last night, the United Kingdom left the European Union. Well, at least on paper because what is legally happening is not as dramatic as the word “Brexit” suggests.
Legally, as of yesterday night, the UK entered into a limbo that has been called Transition Period. This will last – in principle – until the end of this year. During this time bureaucrats in Brussels and London will have to figure out the rules on which the UK and the EU will trade from 1 January 2021.
If all this sounds really technical it is because it really is.
In principle, Brexit is a technical subject best left to lawyers and trade experts. Or at least, it ought to be. In reality, it has never been.
The UK voted to leave the EU in June 2016. The vote was the product of a long campaign that ultimately pitted haves – well connected city dwellers – against the have nots – people living in forgotten towns and regions.
In the end, the have nots had it. They turned out in big numbers to vote against what they saw as a system that only benefits the well educated and the well connected. The referendum was the only occasion for these people to make their voice heard, and they spoke loud and clear. It was a very British revolution.
For those living in cities, the decision was a big shock. The decision to leave the EU marks the end of a historical era: one marked by free trade and prosperity which has established London as a global city and centre of finance.
I live in London. The morning after the referendum is etched in my memory. It was traumatic. I woke up at 3am to follow the results as they were coming in. Around an hour later, the BBC called it: Leave had won.
I went to bed and announced the result to my now wife. I woke her up in shock. We tried to process the result: Now what? My wife was in the midst of moving to London from Spain. I had only been in London for fifteen months. In London, we saw an open and welcoming place for us to build a life together. The Brexit result sent the opposite message.
Walking down the storied streets of the City of London to the office that morning was eerie. The silence was deafening. Some people were standing still with tears in their eyes. Everyone was gobsmacked.
Anecdotally, Maltese tend to live and work in the big centres: London, Manchester, Edinburgh. Some study in Oxford, Cambridge, Warwick or Sheffield. We are part of an estimated 3 million EU citizens living in the UK.
For many of us, the result meant a big shift in the way we perceive what ultimately has become our home: Are we welcome here? Should we even belong here? Do we have a long term future?
Personally, London is now home. I am proud of my Maltese identity and equally proud of my London home. I love the seasons here and the people, faiths and faces from all over the world that have spread roots in London.
Over time, and thanks to Brexit, I have learnt that the big political decisions play out on the small scale – the individual. The questions that the Brexit vote triggered in me and other Maltese are still open. We rarely mention them to each other whenever we meet. We just get on with with our lives.
Beyond the headlines, beyond the fuzzy blonde hair and the Union Jacks, there are lives lived all the way from Tower Hamlets to the Thyne Valley. Today we will all have two feelings: hope and fear.
Hope, because finally, after three years of controversy, we have picked a direction as a country, no matter how much we may disagree. Fear, because we all know the times ahead are uncertain.
History will be the judge of the big decisions in Westminster and Brussels. We are left with our lives to live.