I thought of going to Iran but in the end I decided that the most interesting place to go, since I like holidaying in political hotspots, was England – with a two day stop in Nice where eighty innocent people had been mowed down by a Tunisian immigrant a few days earlier.
And, of course, England is the most astonishingly beautiful country. It has the most beautiful countryside in Europe, even more beautiful than Romania’s. It has wonderful summer weather. Meaning temperate. I speak the language, better than my compatriots. And it has so many wonderful cathedrals and churches, albeit much damaged by the Reformation. And full of such nice people, much nicer than in the 1980s.
So, my first summer holiday in England after emigrating to Romania eighteen years ago.
But I wanted to know what people thought of Brexit. I arrived a month after the referendum, when people were almost getting used to the result. It almost felt old news except people were still in shock
What did I find?
My very inscientific survey. Most (not all) nice people were Brexit. The nice people who voted Remain tended to do so mostly from fear not enthusiasm, pragmatism not ideals.
Many ambitious people were Remain, but by no means all. The City, which had done well out of the EU, or so it thought, was Remain and is very shocked indeed. The academics, almost to a man or woman, were Remain, though not the ones I know. They told me they had to keep their opinions secret.
More than a third of Labour voters voted Leave but you wouldn't guess that, as most middle class Labour people were volubly Remain. But there were exceptions. A Labour friend (the goddaughter of Barbara Castle) was delighted about the result, as would her godmother have been.
Rootless people and people who hold dual passports were usually Remain. And people who don't like our country very much and would like it to be another country. There are quite a lot of them.
Most Muslims, I was told by two Muslims I know, voted Leave because of immigration from Eastern Europe, but the polls show that three quarters of Muslims and Hindus voted Remain. Blacks and Jews voted by the same majority, more or less, as the general population to leave.
I lunched with a young barrister at Inner Temple. She told me all the barristers of her mid twenties cohort were Remain, but all the clerks in all the chambers voted Leave.
We checked this. It was the same in every chambers.
My schoolfriend at the Norwich bar said he didn’t know anyone with any sense who voted Leave. A friend at the Exeter bar said the Exeter bar had split evenly between Leave and Remain. A naval officer said his colleagues were evenly divided. Three servants at the Reform Club told me it was a very bad result. They were all Caribbean. People on the club table at the Reform Club were very unhappy. A young servant at the Oxford and Cambridge Club said
It is very bad and very good.
What do you mean?
It will be very bad at first, but very good later. But then I am only a foreigner.I asked him where he came from and learnt he was Romanian, from Constanta and delighted by London. In the Oxford and Cambridge Club he found the England that Romanians expect from books and films.
A Cambridge undergraduate told me undergraduates were 85% Remain. If you were Leave you told no-one. Why not?
My seventeen year old nephew said at his VI Form College opinion was 97% Remain and the 3% kept quiet.
My Euro-panjandrum friend, who is very nice, said
I voted Remain but I have to admit I see in my work how corrupt the EU is.
I was pleased that Ruth Dudley Edwards, the historian and journalist, who hesitated till near the end, voted Leave. Three civil servant friends voted Remain, for fear of the consequences of leaving, not from love of the EU.
A rich British Indian friend, who voted Remain, said
The EU is a completely useless, completely corrupt, completely undemocratic institution, but leaving will be very, very painful.
A nice couple in their fifties in a pub in Wivenhoe, who evidently had some money, said
I don’t think we should have been asked, because we didn't know enough. We voted Remain because why rock the boat when things are going well?
I liked this answer.
Apart from the two Muslims, only one person, a woman in Rochester from whom I bought an ice cream, mentioned immigrants.
The decent people who work in shops and pubs outside London were usually Leave. People whose judgment I instinctively trusted. A man at the airport gave me a cappuccino on the house after I said I was Leave. A nice 25 year old barmaid in Rochester put it best:
Whatever happens, at least we'll make our own laws now.
Her blonde colleague agreed. So did I.
Brexit was not about economics. Only a materialistic, decadent people would think it should be. We proved we were not decadent or materialistic or cowards.
But it will be good for us economically in the long run - the EU, I see now, is an insoluble mess. I hoped our leaving would give the EU a chance, but it won't. Then I started to wonder if the EU would come to an end soon. Would another country leave? Now I think it will go on and on interminably.
As every day goes by, it seems more natural that we are leaving the EU and more odd that we lasted so long. How wonderful that we can put our energy elsewhere and, also, how humiliating our 43 wasted years now seem.
A nice woman at Marks and Spencer's in Colchester told me she had worked shelf filling for 15 years.
I started at the bottomshe said and added,
I suppose I still am at the bottom.She voted Leave and told me gesturing to the taxi rank outside,
All the taxi drivers voted Leave.
That settles the question. Taxi drivers and barbers know everything and are pretty well never wrong on serious issues. I bet the barbers voted Leave too.
The last remark is not a joke, by the way. I remember what a canny Romanian political analyst, Silviu Alexe, said to me.
If you want to understand politics don’t ask the man who reads the paper cover to cover every day. He knows far too much. Find a man who doesn’t follow politics, a man who says he only buys a paper once a year. He is the one who understands what’s going on.When Michael Gove said in an interview that “people in this country have had enough of experts” he was being oracular.