On the morning of the 24th June, 2016 - I woke up, absolutely depressed. The day before, I had stayed up all night to watch, with increasing levels of horror and disbelief as the UK – my homeland - voted to leave the European Union, the land where my home is. Waking up next to my German girlfriend, in our apartment in Berlin - I felt surprisingly shell-shocked as the slow, creeping realisation set in: I would not be a citizen of the European Union any more. Worse than that, I would not be a citizen of the place that contained the place that contained all my pants.
Like many British people, I probably wasn't quite as prepared for this version of reality as I should have been. Don't forget, this was all the way back in 2016, when Bowie was alive, and the world made sense, and Donald Trump was just a rich, unhappy man who noticed problems, except loudly.
So naive were we all in those golden days, indeed, that the “Brexit party” I attended – which felt increasingly like it should have been advertised as a “Brexit slow-motion funeral” – was a fancy dress event. We thought it would be a fun, funny occasion, thanks to pollsters, and our liberal bubbles, and our echo chambers, and our pre-2016 intuitions that a flawed "status quo" might nevertheless be more appealing to voters than a kamikaze nosedive into the Unknown.
Clearly far too self-assured that it would be a predominantly celebratory night, I made the somewhat regrettable choice to go dressed as every stereoptypical liberal's worst stereotype of a “Little Englander.” I wore a vest, a baseball cap, and covered myself in the kinds of tattoos and accessories rightly feared by people living in nice, quiet, relatively undiscovered places all over the world – England flags, UKIP badges, and the ever-ready mantra of every country's idiots, 'I want Britain to be back British.'
Then, over the course of 6 gruelling hours, the humorous element of my costume retreated slowly into a corner, withered away, then promptly died. At 6.15am Central European Time, it was called. Half the girls at the party cried, and shortly after I was cycling home in the brisk, new light of morning, wearing only a vest - a cold, drunk, sad man, dressed as a racist.
Not since Prince Harry dressed as a Nazi has a costume backfired so fully.
The next day, while desperately trying to scrub the words “Farage for King” in permanent marker from my arms, I expected the news to slowly sink in, and to acclimatise to the idea that maybe it was not such a big deal after all.
Things change. That's ok, isn't it? We all die, you know. Mustn't grumble.
Instead, I found myself surprisingly and increasingly shell-shocked, and then angry. It's almost embarrassing to say, but it wasn't until after Britain had voted to Leave the EU, that I realised how much I had considered myself to be, and even identified as, a European. I was born in the Common Market, my passport says 'European Union' on the front, and I spent a lot of my adult life travelling and working and making friends freely within its borders. It felt like my country, in every meaningful sense of the word. Then, suddenly, it didn't, and the annoying limits of mere nationality bubbled to the surface once more. Overnight I appeared to have have lost 27 de facto citizenships in one fell swoop, because of a load of old people, living on an island. They weren't ever going to use them... but I had been. I was. I am.
The more I tried to rationalise this emotional reaction, I couldn't. I felt like a man living in California, suddenly told that the USA was closed to me, because Wyoming said so. It felt that wrong. I was an EU citizen, wasn't I? What right did any one – especially some people over there, literally a thousand miles away - have to revoke that from me? My passport says 'European Union' on the first line in big, bold, gold letters. Wouldn't it protect me?
'Um, haha, no,' was the answer, of course. It was the probably the first time I could really say that a political decision had clearly, significantly, demonstrably affected me. A load of my rights had just vanished. It was the moment I realised, as the late, great comedian George Carlin once said, that “rights aren't rights if they can be taken away. They're privileges.”
Soon after - with the tinnitus of Nigel Farage's “Independence Day” speech still ringing in my ears - I visited a friend in Spain, on a part of the coastline so full of British nationals, that I shall affectionately refer to it as the Costa del Sunburn. It was a place of English breakfasts, and pubs called The Old Brown Cow, and only very, very British people, saying very, very British people things, like “it's too hot.”
Yet almost every British person I met that week on the Costa del Sunburn had voted to Leave the EU, despite clearly, significantly, demonstrably utilising their right to live in a totally different, much sunnier part of it. One man genuinely answered the question with the rather astonishing answer, “because of immigration. I think Britain should be British. That's all.”
I stared at him – a red and orange man from Roysdon, living in the land of flamenco – and waited for even a hint of irony to hit him. And yet it didn't. I waited a little longer. Still nothing. The irony appeared to be taking its time today. Perhaps it was having a siesta.
So I persisted, in a genuine mood of inquiry. “Aren't you worried about your pension, or health-care, or needing a VISA, or something?”
“Nah,” he replied, “the Spanish need us.”
Perhaps I was missing something, but this appeared to be another rather spectacular statement from Barry, aged 68 years old, a retired British person, only buying tea-bags and baked beans from other retired British people, only paying cash for black taxis driven by other retired British people, slowly tanning himself towards cataracts, melanoma, and the off-brown colour of a shoe, miraculously believing himself to be a highly sought after boost to the Spanish GDP.
No matter how hard I squinted at this man wearing the British flag as a garment, all I could see was a resource-drain that Spain “needs” about as much as Stevie Wonder needs a second or third set of NASA-grade telescopes.
Yet variations of this argument I had heard echoed again and again, from people who had voted to Leave, for all different reasons: that the EU was now going to offer the UK a good deal, because reasons. Everything would be better for Britain in the future, they believed, "liberated" from the stuffy halls of the “faceless, nameless Eurocrats” in Brussels (all of whom have Wikipedia pages, and can even be researched with a technology called 'the internet.') Forgiving the not tiny irony that people like Barry were now expecting both generosity and compassion from an institution they had just accused of being out-of-touch and apathetic to the lives of ordinary people, they were now missing the most most worrying spanner in the wheels of their thinking.
The European Union – whether it is “good” or “bad” or, as I think, neutral – is a necessarily self-interested institution, i.e. one that does not, and can not, want for itself to not exist. It's been built. People work there. There's rooms, and people go to those rooms, and they order stationary, and they use that stationary. It does things. If Britain leaving the EU was really good for Britain, then other EU countries would obviously be inspired to follow suit, which could cause a domino effect, which could only end in the European Union's demise. The EU – in other words – can not want anything, except for Brexit to be a dismal, echoing failure. Whether it can achieve that or not, I don't know. I'm just a man who's worried about his pants. But it seems to me that the one part of that potentially dismal, echoing failure inside the EU's control is the deal it makes with the UK upon its exit.
This manifesto is here - rather treacherously you might say - to help them. I'm offering my services as a British Mentality Advisor, to give negotiators and civilians alike the essential knowledge that they will need to deal, and do deals, with my overly-polite, moany, faffy, unhelpfully nostalgic, half-drunken islander-sharers. Consider me a turncoat – a polite and well-intentioned traitor - trying to aid and abet my fellow Europeans in understanding the uniquely muddled mentality of the people who have just chosen to Leave them.
My countrymen betrayed me. Now I'm betraying them.
As a double-agent, working for the place I live, against the place I'm from, I will equip you with all the tools, tips and tricks you need to deal with the British, whenever, wherever and however drunk you find them. You'll learn how to exploit a general reluctance to deal with confrontation, the immobilising effect of an awkward silence, how to use British politeness against us, and how to abuse our crippling inability to make even minor, completely unimportant decisions in public without at least two minutes of amazing faffing. Maybe if I do a good enough job, dear European reader, you will let me stay, in some kind of bespoke no hassle, Visa-free, pants-access arrangement. (Please?)
The gloves are off. The sleeves are rolled up. This is what happens when a British person doesn't “agree to disagree.” Let's play cricket.