Mar. 31st, 2017

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Overnight, a Leave supporter unfollowed me on Twitter. In many respects this is unremarkable and while unfortunate, it is not particularly surprising judging by how the issue dominates my timeline. It was someone I knew moderately well, but who has drifted away in recent years, largely due to a change in geographical circumstances. He is what I would call a gloating Leaver, and although I was saddened by his unfollowing, the more I thought about it, the more I thought I was better off rid. I have very real concerns about the Brexit process and a true friend would show some level of empathy. He has shown nothing but hubris and as a consequence I think it's best we go our separate ways.

I tried to explain my thoughts on this in a series of tweets this morning, but felt it deserved a longer post. Here it is.

Much has been made of Theresa May's desire to bring the country together, to unite behind her Brexit plan. The problem with this is that Remainers and Leavers seem to be ideologically opposed and this explains some of the language that has been used between the two groups. Words like 'Remoaner', 'unpatriotic' and 'traitor' to describe pro-Europeans are not only fallacious but also dismissive of the legitimate worries that many of us have. Of course, the same is the case labelling Leavers as 'racist' - I'm sure some of them are, but many are not - so it does cut both ways. While the populace at large probably isn't too bothered about the EU, for those passionate about this, it seems there are two world views which are fundamentally irreconcilable, meaning I don't think unity will ever be possible. IF it is, then it can only be through compromise in terms of the Brexit deal and an empathetic approach to each other's differing views. I'm seeing little give on this, particularly from the hardline Brexiteers, who don't seem willing to work a political solution that would be acceptable to all.

The problem with opposing world views is that I will never understand the concept of nationhood and patriotism as espoused by Leave voters as I have always been more internationalist in outlook. Similarly, they'll never understand my view that pooling sovereignty is a price worth paying for increased security and prosperity. This isn't to say that Remainers are not patriots - some of the biggest patriots I know are pro-Europeans - but this patriotism seems to have manifested itself in different ways. It's like two co-existing worlds. My own vote was based on my internationalism, but also personal circumstances, particularly related to free movement. And it is the latter that's my main motivation, which is why the gloating from a handful of former friends has proven to be so hurtful, particularly as the 48% have largely been ignored politically for the last nine months.

I am vehemently anti-Brexit. I accept that people voted Leave for a range of reasons but many of them I simply cannot understand. Most don't stand up to scrutiny, but I respect those who voted Leave based on arguments which do. The sugar industry is one such example. The differing price of sugar cane and sugar beet as determined by the Common Agricultural Policy means that the EU constrains sugar manufacturing in the UK. Tate and Lyle backed Brexit and I can undersand why. I disagree, but there is a logic I can follow. Similarly, other people voted Leave based on their own personal circumstances and again I understand. This isn't about people with a differing view as I can empathise with those in the sugar industry and I genuinely hope that Brexit is positive for them. However, those vacuously talking about Empire 2.0 and restoring Britain to former glories are the ones that are the target of my frustration.

And herein lies an issue, an issue that the Brexiteers are not being honest about. In any situation, particulary a major change such as this, there will always be winners and losers. Always. And I cannot see anything but being a loser in my case. Let me explain. I am the international manager of an SME specialising in translation and media work. We have audio and video production facilities in the basement of our offices, bespoke to our needs. As a consequence, we can deliver services in a range of languages, largely because we can easily employ EU nationals without having to go through a visa system. This is likely to change after 2019. Those who complain about immigration in the UK say that it's too easy to get into the country, but anyone who has had to deal with the Home Office would tell you that this is not the case. For our Russian and Chinese staff it took us four months to get the approval, even though there was no-one else in the country who could do the job (which we had to prove). Fortunately, in these cases, a four month delay was not a problem but this is not the case for a lot of the ad hoc work we do. Any visa system is unlikely to be streamlined enough to allow us to offer these services quickly, meaning less work for everyone, unless radical changes are made. The fear here is the lack of desire to do this. If sacrificing free movement meant greater access to staff from places like Africa, Latin America, India, China and Russia then this could be an opportunity, but May's ideological fixation on an immigration target of 'tens of thousands' suggests that my ability to recruit the people I need is likely to be severely curtailed in future.

In addition to this, we employ a number of EU nationals and their future is equally uncertain. There was a noticeable gloom in the office on Wednesday, while today the director of the company confessed to me how angry he is about the Brexit process. And if the man who pays your wages is pissed off, then I would say your concerns are legitimate.

This gets me back to my unfollower friend. I know he was following me yesterday and is not following me today. I also know he tweeted a pointed remark about 'the people who are complaining haven't left yet', highlighting his lack of empathy. So let me take this further. Brexit does provide me with the opportunity to live in another country, which has been a dream of mine for years (and one which is going to be a lot harder once Brexit is confirmed). However, I have commitments. I have a mortgage, a partner and a job I love. Due to the issues described above regarding staffing, the directors have realised that it may be in our interests to open a branch office on the continent. This could allow me to have my cake and eat it, to use an oft-used phrase, by working abroad but keeping my contacts in the UK. However, opening an office in a foreign country isn't as easy as just turning up. There are legal issues, liabilities, tax law and a whole host of other things to consider. We also need to work out where would be the best place to set up - both in terms of the business landscape but also access to the staff we need. Ireland is a possibility but so is Madrid, so we are having to do this in Spanish as well as English. And the list goes on. So although I am not 100% sure if the comment was directed at me, moving and retaining everything I currently have is a huge undertaking. Of course, I could just quit my job and go, but there is no guarantee at this late stage whether I wouldn't just be sent back in two years' time. This would make my personal circumstances even more insecure than they currently are and remember I have a mortgage. The best option would be a branch office under my current employer and this is the target towards which I am working, but it is a long process.

Of course, should I move, I would be leaving friends and family behind, not to mention my home. This is in itself a tough thing to do and again is why empathy is so important. Added to this is that my brother's job - a specialist in EU trademark law - is likely to become obsolete in 2019, causing him great anxiety. Of course I am trying to get the softest Brexit possible through all the democratic means open to me - including highlighting a range of issues on Twitter which I genuinely hope people find interesting - but I accept that a hard Brexit is the most likely path from here. However, trying to run a business under such uncertainty when the futures of so many of your staff - staff who are not to blame for any of this and who do not deserve being stuck in limbo - is exceptionally tough. I'm at the coal face here, trying to make the best of the situation, but with the exchange rates causing an issue and staffing a genuine concern, we do need to explore all the options open to us. So many lives are affected by this, including so many people I know, and to dismiss their fears so easily and in some cases actually revel in these circumstances shows a real lack of respect. No true friend would ever do this. This is why empathy is so important and why I no longer have time for people who do not display it.

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