It’s terrible to have such strong feelings about an upcoming referendum but not to be able to vote in it. When this referendum was announced I thought that only nativists and unreconstructed Marxists would vote to leave – the first for the glory of nostalgia and the second for the incitement to revolution.
Yet here we are, the polls tight and variable and apparently moving toward Leave, anti-immigrant sentiment more common than at any point in my five and a half years in the UK. (It’s another terrible feeling to watch social fractures previously barely visible to me become more pronounced.)
The risks are huge. Yet somehow, despite the absolutely overwhelming evidence from economists – notably from Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England – despite the near-certainty that Scotland will vote to leave the UK in the event of a Leave vote, despite the massive uncertainty that will descend upon Northern Ireland’s economy and its borders, despite a report by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics predicting annual household real income losses post-Brexit of between 5.7% and 13.5%, the polls are seesawing and the mood on the street is terribly conflicted. The Leave campaign has done a great job of muddying the waters, making it look as if leaving the EU will not have terrible economic and social effects on life here. It will. (And we are right to pose a million logistical questions: How would we deal with the agony of extraction? Is separation even possible? Is this country really going to leave the single market? What kind of economic suicide would that be? And if not, is belonging to the EEA and adopting almost all EU law as it relates to the single market without being able to vote on it really the answer?)
The far right across Europe will be deeply encouraged by a Leave vote. Austria just came within a hairsbreadth of electing as their President a man from one of Europe's most successful far-right political parties, a man who co-authored his party’s platform in support of pan-Germanism, a party that is trying to open linguistic wounds in South Tyrol. France's Marine Le Pen – who herself wondered aloud not too long ago if the French-speaking part of Belgium might be absorbed by France – does well in presidential polls. The question of absorption of neighbouring countries along linguistic lines is no longer such an absurd prospect in Europe; in Crimea in 2014, we saw the seizure of territory by a neighbouring county in the name of linguistic and cultural unity. (Austria's FPÖ and France's Front National are both huge supporters of Putin. Imagine that.) The governments of Poland and Hungary are in the hands of populist right-wing parties. These are Leave's bedfellows across Europe. These forces have succeeding in convincing many that refugees, immigrants, ethnic and religious minorities, and various others are the enemy. Leaving the EU empowers them.
This is what I want to say, as an immigrant who came to London because he had a dream – a European dream – to live and work in what just may well be the world’s best city. This is your Trump moment. It may not seem like it – there are few public figures in the UK who are as hateful as Donald Trump, after all – but the choice to vote Leave is about ignoring the sober predictions of apolitical economists and experts and rejecting the impulse toward solidarity in favour of chaos. It is a choice to jump off into space with no sense of when or how you will land, encouraged by the most amorphous of objectives.
The European Union is boring, tedious, and plodding. It needs reform. It should be less opaque and more nimble. At the same time, the EU is remarkable. It makes our lives better and it makes this country better.
Please, let's stay.