What if the chaos of Brexit turned into something darker, more chaotic than we ever imagined?
What if our government did a u-turn on Brexit? What if there was a general election and the far right gained ground as a result? What if there was widespread civil unrest?
What if ISIS saw an opportunity to breed even more chaos? A series of suicide bombs or shootings. Handled poorly. A weak prime minister, an angry public, a power vacuum. A civil war.
What if it a civil war happened? What would you do? Would you fight? Would your sons fight?
Would you leave the country? When? At the first signs of civil unrest? Decide it’s not the place you want to bring your kids up any more? How quickly would you find a job somewhere else? What if you have elderly parents? You’d stay for them, right? Or your kids, you’d want to keep them in school. Or maybe your eldest is 150 miles away at University. Nothing bad’s happened up in that part of the country, and you need to keep the home fires burning for them, at least until they graduate. You’ve paid off 15 years of your mortgage, you don’t want to leave the house you’ve worked so hard for. It would be financial suicide to just disappear and leave the house empty with no way of paying off the remaining bank loan. This stupid war won’t last forever, you think. But the gunfire gets closer every week. It’s not long before you start to fall asleep to the soundtrack of guns pop-popping away somewhere in the distance every night.
What if the local hospital gets taken over by militants? Or the school? What if you go into work one Monday morning and the office has been shut down permanently? What have you got left to stay for? What if a bomb went off in your county? In your town? Your street? What if you held your neighbour, fatally injured, helplessly, as her children looked on in horror?
What if you decide now that it’s time to leave the country? Who will you take with you? Your elderly parents? Your stubborn eldest son, who is away at University and determined to stay and fight for what he believes in? Your cat? Your dog? What will you take? How big is the biggest rucksack that you can carry? What will you put inside it? What’s your plan? Where will you go? How much money can you take with you? How much will it be worth in other countries?
What if other countries start saying no to British passports? What if you can’t just get on a plane? How will you get to Dover, with all the fighting that is going on in London and the Home Counties? Will you even make it as far as Kent?
What if France has closed the border? 5 million Brits have already crossed into France and France’s public services are struggling to cope. What if the Channel Tunnel is closed and the ferries have stopped running? How will you cross the Channel?
What if you meet a man in Dover and he offers to take you and your family across the Channel for £2,500, do you accept? What if you rendezvous in the stillness of breaking light, just before dawn and he takes you down to his dinghy and then demands another £1,000, before you find out there will be 35 other people in it and actually, there’s no driver and one of you is going to have to pilot it yourselves?
What if you make it to France? Has your bag made it as well, or did it get thrown overboard in the panic as the dinghy started to take on alarming amounts of water? What if you arrive in France with nothing except your mobile phone in its waterproof case and a small waterproof money box around your neck? What happens next? Where will you go? Will you walk, or try and sneak onto a train or a bus? What’s your plan? How much money have you got left? Where are you going to get income from in the future? When? Did you bring your educational certificates with you, or did they go down to the bottom of the Channel with your rucksack? Can you speak French? When did you last have a wash? Change your underwear? When did you last have a comfortable and unbroken night’s sleep?
What if everything you had ever worked for; your career, your house, your car, your savings, your kids’ education, your hobbies, suddenly became utterly meaningless. What if you had to start all over again?
I am back in the UK on holiday at the moment and I’ve just watched the first part of ‘Exodus’*, a brilliant documentary on BBC2 following the journeys of a handful of Syrian refugees as they cross from Turkey to Greece and make their way to their chosen destinations. There is no ‘story arc’, no dramatisation, no voice over. It’s just the immigrants themselves telling the story in their own words, with some of the footage being shot on camera phones given to them by the production team. There is a family who ran a restaurant in Aleppo, who want to get to Germany, a well-educated English teacher who speaks perfect English who (obviously) wants to get to England, and another teacher trying to get to England (who also has very good English) ,who left his wife and two daughters back home in a Daesh-controlled town while he tries to get established in the UK before arranging for them to make their journey. Heartbreakingly, he gets a call from his wife while he is a recording a piece to camera, a call which he has to take because it is so rare that she gets chance to phone him, and she sounds terrified and unable to speak openly. The pain that shows across his face during and after the call reveals just how broken he is inside while trying to hold it together enough to get to England.
In contrast to my Syrian friends in Qatar, I’ve always had the warm comfort-blanket of home waiting for me back in the UK. I’ve never really needed my comfort blanket, but it’s nice knowing it’s there. If I’ve ever felt lonely or weary or ungrounded or fed up with Middle Eastern life, a quick trip back to my homeland and my faith is restored.
But the UK feels like a dark and cold place at the moment. As my fellow blogger, Nat High, so brilliantly captured in his blog recently, it doesn’t feel like going home any more. Brexit has shone a torch into the darkest corners of our country and we’ve found some monsters hiding under that warm and cosy bed. As I’ve struggled to come to terms with what that means, for the country, for my family and for our future, I’ve done a fair bit of catastrophising, although I don’t really think the scenario I’ve outlined above is realistic for Britain. But, in the same way that most people are only one or two pay cheques away from being made homeless, Brexit has shown me that Britain is only potentially a few misplaced steps away from being plunged into crisis. It’s given me a new outlook on the refugee crisis. The irony that some sectors of the ‘vote Leave’ camp were motivated, in part, by a fear of those Syrian refugees is not lost on me.
*Exodus Part 1 was shown on BBC2 at 9pm on Monday July 11th and should be compulsory viewing for everyone on the entire planet.