Lifestyle & Culture

Terry Boyd: ‘Dear Brits’ exposed the open wound that’s Brexit

(Editor’s note: This post has been amended to include a link to Statista, which provided the data for the chart that appears below. Thanks to Armin Fallahdoust-Bouini at Statista.com for pointing out our omission.)

I’ve been in the digital news business a long time (comparatively, since the whole concept is only about 20 years old), and I’ve never seen anything like what happened after we posted Nina Avramovic Trninic’s opinion piece, “Dear Brits: This is what it’s like to be a non-Eu citizen.”

20160219_Expats_Ind (3)During the past five days, Nina has gotten well over 160,000 page views. (I stopped counting after a while.) Which is not that big a deal in the Big Media world. But Dispatches is a four-month-old news and entertainment site for expats across Europe.

So we can’t really take much credit for bringing the audience to Nina. Nina brought the audience to us. Her engineer’s mind cranked out a post (in her second of at least four languages) that is structurally and thematically perfect … not to mention compelling in its application of the elements of style and expository writing.

Sadly, this has been a rather painful experience for her, with Internet stalkers and extreme Right Wing Brexit trolls going to the trouble to find her personal email account so they could send her hate mail at 3 a.m. Personally, I was disappointed how so many readers didn’t understand her point of how difficult life can be for non-EU citizens (which a million British expats across Europe are about to become) … or chose to distort her points to conform to their prejudices and bigotry. Then, in the comment section of her post, they turned on each other.

What none of us realized is, Brexit is an open wound with British people and with non-EU citizens and expats. So, we inadvertently hung Nina out to dry. We just had no idea how high feelings are running on both sides of this momentous decision, arguably the biggest blow to European unity since the end of World War II.

Almost the moment we posted “Dear Brits,” UK citizens on both sides started sharing it via social media. In the lexicon of early, innocent days of the World Wide Web, it went “viral.” Viral to the point that our hosting company had to expand Dispatches’ traffic capacity.

As I told Nina, when you reach hundreds of thousands of people, you’re going to get some significant percentage of angry and irrational people. More astounding was how many people – both in the Leave camp, and the Remain camp  – took time to write detailed, thoughtful comments in the Dispatches comment section and on Facebook, outlining their positions. I decided to collect the best of them into a separate post.

The first one I noticed was this from Leslie Bailey in Hanwell in East London, who turned Nina’s point around to reflect the frustration of working-class Brits:

Dear Dispatches

This is what it is like being a Brit in an EU-led UK:

Today in London & the South East there are positions on building sites paying £7.20-7.80 ph. A few years ago it was around £13 ph, and even that level was lower than previously, due to the mass influx of EU migrants.

Today they are back to earning 1980’s wage levels again.

Outside of construction/demolition, in factory production lines and food processing plants etc. around Greater London, the wage offered is often around the minimum of £7.20-£7.40 ph using non-EU migrants. It’s similar now for refuge collection (binmen) now often £7.20-£7.50 ph, that used to be a promotion up from roadsweepers, but is now the same minimum pay rate. Also similar rates for forklift drivers.

All  these were once a decent living wage … warehouse staff too.  But our EU status changed this with it’s acute migration to Britain, and Labour Party’s invitation from the poorest in Asia, Africa, Middle East etc. The British-born working class soon will have nothing left to live for. Badgered by their own for being kept on Taxpayer’s money, Harassed and sanctioned by the state for not applying to or finding enough job vacancies.

They can only see it as a migrant-led problem.

Someone needs to calm things down out there, just walking around the shopping areas, and you see poor English born and bred types, while the migrants always seem to have decent clothes. Jobs etc..

Labour and the EU must be proud of what they’ve done to our own people, but I hate them for it.

Then there was this one from Kevin Davis, a teacher at West Sussex County Council:

I have asked those who voted leave what laws the EU imposed on the UK, they didn’t know. I asked them what benefits the EU gave them, they couldn’t tell me.

 For the past 6 years, this government has slashed and cut in the name of austerity and when you have to wait for an appointment, it’s the foreigner in the waiting room with you who gets the blame …. “It’s them. They are the problem,” you think. Yes, there are plenty of scroungers claiming benefits here and most of them are British but the scrounging “foreigners” get all the media attention.

At the end of the day it was all about, “We don’t like being told what to do by ‘Johnny Foreigner.’ ” It was ok during the British Empire because we told the foreigners what to. Well we are out now, and those who didn’t give a toss about the Europeans are going to learn the hard way what benefits they will lose. If we have to check passports of every person coming in, then they will have to check all our passports as we go to the EU. More queues. No more day trips to France because you will be in passport control for most of it. While we queue, the Borises and Goves (millionaires) can go to their VIP lounges.

The UK will be all right, but we are all going to have to work a little bit harder; queue a little bit longer and pay a little bit more. Ireland is expecting a mass influx of British companies taking up offices and transferring staff as they downsize in the UK and move to Ireland, which is still in the EU. So they can deal with their EU customers from within. The EU is adamant – no free trade if there is no free movement.

We counted more than 100 comments on “Dear Brits.” On the various social media sites where it was reposted, there were hundreds more. Though some of the comments were vile, the vast majority were well-reasoned and articulate … even when they didn’t agree with our editorial stance of supporting a strong European Union. That in itself makes us want to rededicate ourselves to Dispatches’ mission of connecting expats across the continent.

We had to include this exchange so we can leave you with a warm-and-fuzzy feeling. And yes, I goofed up Nina’s post!

Carol Page ·

Nina – interesting article. But could you please learn the difference between less and fewer (much less went to college)

Nina Avramović Trninić ·

Hallo Carol! I actually did not want to comment at all, but I had to smile at your comment. My original text was “I was one of three people in my branch office who had a master’s degree in engineering or even went to college” and then a native English speaker corrected it to “much less” 🙂 I am raising my children to be bilingual and I always, always try to improve and teach them both German and Bosnian correctly. But I guess we are humans and make mistakes. It was very unusual than in the whole hot and heavy discussion that you noticed the grammar. I guess you have a background or work in / with linguistics / languages (as my two sisters, who used to spend many, many family lunches talking about grammar 🙂 ) ? All the best to you and thank you for the read!
Like · Reply · 1 · Jul 15, 2016 6:00am · Edited

Carol Page ·

Hi Nina!. You are right, I have been a teacher – both in “ordinary” schools and a teacher of English to foreign students! Your native English speaker needs to check out less and fewer! – basically less is for amounts, fewer for numbers. Sometimes it makes a total difference in meaning – eg would you prefer less intelligent teachers or fewer intelligent teachers?! Congratulations on your three languages – my son is also multi-lingual!
Like · Reply · Jul 14, 2016 12:26pm
Thank you readers!
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