For most of my adult life, I’ve held a deep-seated belief in human progress, trusting that values such as acceptance, inclusion, compassion, empathy and kindness will prevail, despite momentary setbacks.
But following the big political shakeups of 2016 – a victory for Brexit here in the UK and the election of Donald Trump as the next president of the USA – my faith in humanity has taken a serious beating. Compassion for our fellow human beings seems to be on the wane as tribalism rises again.
So forgive me, but I was not in a celebratory mood on New Year’s Eve and a few days later I am still feeling the blues. 2017 is the year when we’re finding out the real implications of the big decisions of 2016, and it’s not looking pretty.
Just the thought of how the British government is going to execute its plan to leave the European Union and the consequences it will have for millions of people makes me want to hide under the covers and not get out of bed.
As a Swedish citizen married to a Brit, I will have to apply for permanent residence once Britain leaves the EU (or before) and over the holidays the newspapers reported of several cases of failed applications for permanent residence by EU citizens who’ve lived in the UK for twenty years or more. Although the applications were reportedly rejected on bureaucratic grounds, they gave us a glimpse of the chaos to come.
I left Sweden – my country of birth though I never felt quite at home there – when I was nineteen and went to study and work in the US for seven years before finally settling in the UK where I’ve now lived for more than seventeen years. I consider London my hometown; it’s here that I’ve set down roots: married, had children and built a life for myself.
Over the Christmas holiday we visited Stockholm where I grew up and where my parents still live, and though we had a lovely time there, Stockholm is no longer my home, London is. That is why Brexit affects me so deeply, for the country I’ve made my home now questions my right to remain.
“Come on Jenny, it’s nothing personal,” well-meaning friends tell me, but Brexit IS personal to me.
Others seek to comfort me with assurances that I’ll get my permanent residency and all will be well. But even if they’re right in their prediction, I can’t help to feel some bitterness over the fact that after so many years of living – and paying taxes – in Britain, I face having to justify my continued presence here.
In my darker moments, I contemplate where I’d go if I were forced to leave Britain, but I always come up short of alternatives because this is my home as well as the home of my British-born children and my British husband.
No one knows yet what Brexit will look like in reality – not even the British government seems to have much of a clue – but whatever the outcome, there’s little doubt that the road there will be messy and riddled with controversy and conflict. That’s why I struggle to raise a smile this January.