On hearing Beethoven’s 9th on Brexit Day

Brexit image

Sitting in my car today, on the 1st day of 2021, when Britain has departed from the rest of the European Union, I switched on the radio to hear the steady build-up of the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony – the “Chorale”, and I was suddenly thrown back on myself and the awful struggle that has been part of my life over the last 4 years as I hoped with a passion that Britain would not be so foolish as to REALLY leave the EU.

Hearing the tune that is used at the EU anthem on the day the connection was cut hit me like a hammer blow – the pain I felt, the sadness and the longing that mingled together.

Behind all my rage about Brexit is a simple truth: deep grief about the loss of that part of my identity bigger and better than pure Britishness. It is a psychological diminishment I may never recover from. The EU added richness to my Britishness, it did not limit it.

I mean this in the same way that I am English and Celtic. The Celtic part of my identity embedded me in a rich non-Anglo-Saxon tradition. My European Union citizenship did exactly the same.

It’s interesting to me, and saddening, that while many Brexiteers vaunted identity and a pure British identity as the desired object of their politics, it is exactly the opposite of that purity – the richness of mixing it up – that gave my life a sense of joy.

What I find fascinating is the feeling comes form the tangible. I had often mocked Brexiters for becoming so passionate about the colour of their travel document, but now that I see the legal support and underpinning, the treaties and the international understandings a passport represents removed from me, I can at least understand something of their passion, even if the thing in itself that I miss is the direct opposite of what they wanted.

Let’s be clear, the future that I imagined and loved was a European one, just as they imagine a British one.

I don’t know how that rift will be mended within a UK that essentially is two nations now: one that looks to its homeland in Europe, with all the enlightened attitudes and politics that entails, and its opposite – an aggressive nationalism. Do I feel I have more in common with friends in France, Germany or the Netherlands than I do with my next door neighbour? Yes, absolutely. I was quite happy to accept them on terms of equality under the stars of the EU flag, rather than regard them as strangers under two flags. We were, somehow, sharing an endeavour of building a unique civilization that was broad, big and most of all optimistic.

I have no idea how to stop this pain. The thing Brexit has taught me, is after this sense of loss and pain, I am now a European more than I ever was when I was in the EU. The parting and pain makes the identity more meaningful. This will never go away. So, we are two nations in the UK. I will never love my country in the way I once did, because that country has told me I cannot be who I am at my heart.

I distrust narrow nationalism with a passion that comes from hating the nationalism of The Third Reich or of The British Empire. Neither were about equality, and this is what I find so troubling about the direction Britain is now headed in.

But that is enough. For now, I’ve had my say.


  1. joylennick

    Hi Matt, I’m new to your writing…and boy do you write what I enjoy reading! I’m as old, if not as wise, as Methusaleh, and had bad schooling because of WW11 but took the A level Lit. exam at 66…and just love the written word.The piece you wrote on Brexit summed up almost exactly my feelings about it. I’m English/Welsh, now luckily retired with my Jewish husband in Spain. Brexit. just for starters, has reduced our pensions…’Im indoors and I have always felt sort of ‘European’ and travelled a fair bit, while loving the UK, especially Wales, but both dislike the Colonial British Empire stand and Nationalistic attitude prevailing. A small part of my husband’s family stayed in Poland and were murdered in the Holocaust and my blood ran cold when a cousin sent the family tree naming three of the children who also died there. I have just finished writing a book (still being polished) about a Jewish family in Poland. Long may you flourish! .You will, as your writing is so natural and expressive.Best wishes for 2021 Joy Lennick

  2. Post

    Hello Joy,

    Thank you so much for your kind words. I think your story clearly sums up for me why the EU is a really positive institution. It seems there is a whole generation that has forgotten that Europe was at war with itself for over 1000 years before the end of WW2. Every generation got embroiled in territorial disputes that stretched across the whole world. The French didn’t only fight the British in Europe, but in Canada and America. The Germans fought the French over Alsace pretty much from the 10th Century onwards. Germany came late to empire-building because it unified so late, and essentially used the same imperial methods of oppression used by the other European powers on Europeans. Twice. That we learned from that and finally moved on was part of the narrative that led to the EU. That Britain should now shrink back into this simplistic identity of distrusting other Europeans is a massive moral failure. I don’t blame Brexiters who believed the lies they were told (though I get furious with them, for sure), but I do blame the liars who misrepresented the EU to an uneducated mass for their own gain. Johnson chief among them.

    I remain staunchly European. One nationality and identity simply isn’t enough.

    Btw, I deal with some of this nationalism and hate in my novel The Snow Witch, in an oblique way. It’s a magical realist novel, and you might enjoy that too, if you enjoyed this.

    Regarding your own writing, I wish you the best of luck with it. Your story sounds fascinating!

    Thanks so much for commenting.

  3. joylennick

    Thank you, Matt.. All wise words. I’m about to order a few more e-books on my Kindle (although I prefer paper-backs….) so will delve into “The Snow Witch.” Unfortunately, some paper-backs are unavailable in Spain, although they purport to be…Cheers.

  4. Post

    Hi Joy,

    Thanks for this – I only just saw it! I don’t know if you bought The Snow Witch, but to let you know, my books are all available on the publisher website, here: http://www.lifeisamazing.co.uk

    I hope that’s usefuel to you!

    With kind regards,

    Matt Wingett

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