German-born Bernhard Heidemann gives his personal perspective on the results of the UK's EU referendum
I awoke on 24th June to a Brexit result I was utterly unprepared for.
You may feel the impact this summer as a weaker pound affects your holidays abroad.
But for me, as an EU migrant in the UK for the past 25 years, the first blow landed right at the outset.
There was an immediate sense of sadness for the loss of a European idea that meant so much as someone raised and politically educated in post-war Germany.
But the predominant feeling – one that has not yet subsided – I had never felt in the UK. Unwelcome.
These emotions appear difficult to grasp for many British citizens, including some of my friends. It has been suggested that we are wrong to feel this way. That on a personal level nothing has changed. We shall remain friends and colleagues, our standing in the community will not change, nor will the respect afforded in the workplace.
These are nice sentiments to hear. Indeed they may be largely true, though not entirely – as evidenced by a reported rise in hate crime after the vote.
Yet my unease runs deeper than that.
The predominant issue in this referendum was immigration. Having grown up in Germany, it was hard not to see in the leave campaign’s rhetoric the tactics of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and other nationalists like them.
It was aimed mainly at parts of the population who feel somewhat disenfranchised and are content to be given a simple reason for their unhappiness – one that incidentally has nothing to do with it in the first place.
Much was said about the UK’s financial contributions to the EU and the return being less. This naive and simplistic view depicted money directly received as the only benefit of EU membership.
Then there was European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker, showcased as an unelected leader. Yet at the same time the UK Prime Minister is not directly elected by the populace, with the current PM not even elected to lead her own party by its members.
If the inability of 51.8 per cent of voters to see through these arguments is not a reason for sadness, then I don’t know what is.
Make no mistake, I am not asking for a second referendum. For those who had the democratic privilege of voting, something I did not, there is a democratic obligation to respect the outcome.
I just don’t believe that there should ever have been a referendum on an issue as complex as EU membership. What does it say about a society’s trust in their government if such decisions cannot be left to those elected to make them?
However, to the Conservatives it seemed a good way to ensure electoral success in 2015, tapping into a popular mood and stopping voters from drifting to Ukip. More importantly, the referendum was meant to end decades of infighting within the Conservative Party over the issue of Europe.
Now we have to deal with the result. Amid the political fallout from the Brexit vote the sense of being unwelcome has only increased.
That is not to say that there hasn’t been welcome support. On the day of the referendum I received a text from my friend Kenny asking me when I had time to have a glass of wine to celebrate being European. That same day Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the nation where me and my family live, tweeted: “Scotland is your home, you are welcome here, and the contribution that you make to our economy, our society and our culture is welcome.”
Neither of them apologised, neither patronised, but both understood that something had happened and that what we most needed then was a show of friendship and solidarity.
The contrast couldn’t be starker at Westminster, where politicians have shown that their main interest in EU immigrants is to use them to advance their political objectives. Worst of all was a statement from Theresa May on the fate of EU citizens already living in the UK.
Far from giving assurances, she made it clear that our status was going to be on the negotiating table and no assumptions should be made. While that sentiment may be deemed understandable and sensible, the way she couched it branded us bargaining chips in all but name.
So that is what I now am. After months of anti-immigration rhetoric, a vote to leave the EU, and statements such as Ms May’s, are our feelings that hard to understand?