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Brooks DeCillia Headshot

United Kingdom, I'm Just Not That Into You Anymore

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I fell hard... enamoured at an early age with the United Kingdom.

It was inevitable, arguably. Growing up in a former colony -- with the convincing rituals of singing both "God Save The Queen" and "O Canada" every morning -- the mother country's allure tempted me early. I was helpless to her quixotic perfection.

While my great-grandparents had left the old country for a better life in Canada, I couldn't wait to get back to the epicentre of the Commonwealth.

And the U.K.'s magnetism drew me here over and over again.

Eventually, I came to live and study here.

I came to think in this place of great thinkers.

I came to do journalism in the birthplace of a free press.

I came to experience democracy in the place that gave my country its democratic system.

westminster london

London -- and the entire U.K. -- are my City Upon a Hill. A "light of the world."

It's a vibrant shining place, heaving with people from everywhere.

A decidedly cosmopolitan place, London is a place where most of the messy things -- race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality -- seemed to matter less.

I realize, of course, I may have been naïve about the U.K. My life in London is a privileged one -- and the capital is increasingly a city of the very rich and the very poor.

And the nasty and brutish Brexit debate made those divisions even more apparent.

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The whole exercise still seems so unnecessary -- a blundered political ploy by Prime Minister David Cameron to fend of the U.K. Independence Party and the Euro-sceptics in his own party.

His gamble, of course, failed spectacularly, humiliated by his own party who campaigned against him and stripping this shimmering place on the hill of much of its lustre.

The Brexit debate was decidedly anti-intellectual. The prominent leave campaigner and former education minister, Michael Gove, even said the "British people are sick of experts."

For those of us who have came here to study, the campaign was, well, not British. It wasn't critical. It wasn't the earnest and lofty debate we expect from a country with universities such as Oxford and Cambridge.

And the entire country's unfailingly polite manners seemingly evaporated, like steam pouring out of a screaming tea kettle, in the heat of the campaign.

'Taking back control'

Ultimately, the Brexit referendum, in large part, became a proxy -- rightly or wrongly -- for growing anxieties over migration.

Leave leaders, such as former London mayor and possible prime minister-in-waiting Boris Johnson, talked endlessly in their plummy accents about "taking back control" of the U.K.'s borders.

It worked. White working class voters rebelled against the political and media elite calling for the country to remain in the European Union.

The results make plain the U.K's problems with class, inequality and voter alienation.

european union

While many of us from away recognized the leave campaign's dog-whistle politics as exactly that, it's still hard not to take such anti-foreign talk from the country's leading figures personally.

And even more disturbing, last Thursday's Brexit vote seemingly sent an enabling message to this country's closeted bigots.

Vile thugs have been emboldened by the vote.

Police continue to investigate "racially motivated" graffiti on a Polish community building in west London.

Laminated cards (there's some effort) also showed up in the mailboxes of Polish people in Cambridgeshire.

The message read: "Leave the EU. No more Polish vermin."

brexit

In Manchester, a man reportedly sang "Rule Britannia" in the street and said, "Foreigners can f*** off now."

On Twitter, a Muslim woman was told to "pack your bags....youre (sic) going home.."

Similarly, an Italian woman, who has lived in the U.K for almost 50 years got asked if she would not "prefer to go back to [her] own country?"

The U.K., of course, has a long and troubled history with racism, but it's never felt this overt in my time in the country -- and, most alarmingly, sanctioned by some of its elites.

My social media feeds fill endlessly these days with rueful -- and painful -- laments from my many expat friends and colleagues, who were "devastated" or "gutted" by last Thursday's results.

What's the point?

A French classmate of mine wrote a Facebook post stressing he's never felt all that welcome in London and definitely doesn't feel at home now.

Other European classmates -- present and former -- have wondered why they've bothered to make the U.K. home. What's the point of working hard, volunteering and contributing, they question, if they're just going to get kicked out in a few years.

One Italian former classmate announced on Facebook over the weekend that he's stopped looking for a new house in London, offering that the Brexit result has had a "deep psychological impact on all those who were not born on this tiny pretty island."

It's definitely not the same warm and welcoming place I came to so many years ago.

A Canadian expat, who has made London home for nearly two decades, calls the vote a "tragedy" and posted a popular meme circulating on social media that worries about the "anti-intellectualism" that marked the recent referendum campaign leading to more bigotry.

Last Thursday changed the way many of us foreigners here feel about the U.K.

It doesn't feel like home here anymore.

It's definitely not the same warm and welcoming place I came to so many years ago.

And even more perplexing -- and wounding -- I am questioning if I really ever knew this place I love and idealize.

Like so many from abroad, the toxic campaign and its aftermath have me questioning if I'm really all that into the United Kingdom anymore.

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