My Journey through Brexit

Bath for Europe street stall, January 2019. Photo © Clive Dellard.

As we grow ever closer to the Brexit endgame, I feel compelled to put my thoughts into writing. I want to share my personal journey through Brexit.  It’s been tumultuous but I’m driven to fight on against this terrible loss, one of the greatest I may ever experience.

First, some back story. I was born in Belgium to British parents.  My father worked for a British chemicals company and was offered a two-year secondment to the European HQ in Brussels.  My parents had just found out that I was on the way but grabbed the opportunity with both hands.  My Dad was acutely aware of the Oxbridge Boys Club that dominated upper management and how unlikely it was that he would be able to break through to that level. Maybe Belgium would offer more opportunities?

28 years later, my parents finally returned to an England they didn’t recognise.  Over the years, my Dad had overseen the closure of his former site and been forced to make many of his friends redundant.  In Brussels, however, he’d progressed to the top and retired at the height of a very successful, lifelong career in the same company.  My Mum volunteered at a career advisory service supporting EU citizens who had recently followed their spouses to Belgium and were looking for work – just as she had done decades before.

My younger sister and I were educated at an international school less than 20 miles from the Berlaymont building.  We spoke two languages fluently (and some Flemish, which isn’t a whole lot of use outside Benelux) and had friends from all over the world.   We both chose to study at British universities – Bath for me, Aston for her, where our parents had met many years before.

My European citizenship was baked into my very existence.  I took it for granted; never questioning the ease with which I crossed borders, traded with other countries or secured a work placement in Paris. Being European positively influenced my education, work opportunities, friendships, travel, health, even my mobile phone bill.  The 2016 referendum made me uneasy, but I was complacent that Remain would win.

How wrong I was!  That result came as a terrible blow.  Like so many others, I spent the morning of 24thJune 2016 in tears and making tea (how very British!).  Unlike many others, I then had to pull myself together, drive to Winchester and walk an ultra-marathon the following day.  I completed it and raised £800 for Save the Children; it will forever be my greatest sporting achievement!

Having recovered the use of my legs, I made it through the five stages of grief, all the way to acceptance.  That’s where I stayed for more than a year: “The People Have Spoken”;  “We Must Accept The Result.” I watched Theresa May do absolutely nothing while a carnival of fools danced around her.

By January 2018, I couldn’t stand by and just watch any more.  I was looking for a new career direction and had an epiphany in Waterstones. I will stop Brexit!  It come over me with such certainty; there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I couldn’t do it.

That’s when I came across Bath for Europe.  A group in my university home town fighting Brexit.  They had an event on that week, so I went along to see what I could do to help. Within three weeks, I was Chair of the Events Committee.

I had never chaired a committee before.  I’d never done any political campaigning, never stood on a street stall, never discussed Brexit with anyone that didn’t agree with me, never even contacted my MP. I’d certainly never marched on the streets of London or stood outside Parliament exercising my democratic right to shout “STOP BREXIT” on the evening news.  Why on Earth did these clever, motivated and experienced people trust me to run the Events Committee?!

I did it though.  All of the above, and more besides.  I’ve met Lords and Ladies, MPs and MEPs, Right Honourables and some less so.  I’ve been interviewed on BBC Points West, photographed in the Guardian and appeared with no make-up and terrible hair on German TV.

Throughout 2018, Bath for Europe never wavered in the fight to stop Brexit.  Their steadfast dedication is truly inspiring.  With their support, I’ve achieved things I never could have imagined.  Wrangling 450 protesters to London and back without losing a single one… Watching the BBC struggle to avoid showing bEUrets at Last Night of the Proms… Marching around Bath demanding a People’s Vote…

When I first joined, the People’s Vote was a fanciful idea; so much so that the campaign didn’t even exist. In October, 700,000 people thronged the streets of London and hundreds of us from Bath were there.  On 23rdMarch, we’ll be back again with even more. This time, I’ll be proud to be there as Chair of Bath for Europe.

My journey through Brexit carries on and it’s far from lonely.  Every day I meet more and more incredible people burning with the same fire. This will be my Brexit dividend: the army of protestors, activists and campaigners who I can call friends.

I’ll keep on fighting until the bitter end.  I can’t stop now that we’re so close.  I can’t allow my rights to be taken from me without a whimper or watch the government throw away hard won peace in our time.  When all is said and done, I want to be able to say that I did everything I could.  One thing is for sure, whichever way Brexit goes, the morning after will start with tears and lots of tea.

Emma Knaggs

Chair, Bath for Europe