The most painful journey of my life is finally at an end: Brexit has divided many friends and family, but few have paid such a heavy cost as SARAH VINE
Last month, having had a bad knee for ages, I finally got around to doing something about it.
The damn thing had got so painful it was starting to keep me awake at night. My osteopath took one look at it, rolled his eyes and scolded me for leaving it so long, emptied half a can of dry ice on to it, strapped it up and sent me packing with a flea in my ear.
A few weeks and several sessions later, my knee is almost back to normal and I feel about 20 years younger.
I had grown so used to wincing every time I stood up, to bracing myself for the inevitable agony every time I climbed some stairs, I had almost forgotten what it felt like to have a functioning, pain-free joint.
I feel rather the same about Brexit. Ever since Christmas 2015, when it first became clear the referendum was going to happen, Brexit has been the social, political and intellectual equivalent of a gammy knee, a crippling, nagging obsession that has, quite frankly, hobbled the nation.
Over the past four-and-a-half years it has dominated all our lives. It has informed our culture and our politics in a way few issues ever have. It has divided families, friends, partners and Parliament, and been a constant, never-ending source of niggling, low-level pain punctuated by occasional blasts of acute agony.
I’ll never forget the look of anguish on Samantha Cameron’s face as she watched her husband deliver his resignation from the street outside No 10. Pictured: Sarah Vine and Samantha Cameron
I thought it was never going to end. And now, not quite at the last second to midnight but as near as dammit, we have a trade deal and the relief is exquisite. It’s like political Voltarol.
You can almost hear the collective sigh as the nation’s shoulders drop an inch, our jaws relax, fists unclench. I think we had all forgotten what it feels like not to have Brexit nagging away at us in the back of our brains.
Of course, not everyone sees it that way. There are plenty on the extreme end of the political spectrum already lining up to dismiss the deal as a sell-out.
But who cares about them. They’re the lunatic fringes, the ones who never wanted any sort of resolution in the first place, whose entire raison d’être in this whole debacle is to cause trouble and division for their own advantage. They can just go and sit in the corner and find something else to complain about.
For the majority of us, those who voted Leave not through some swivel-eyed irrational hatred of Polish builders or a misguided, jingoistic sense of superiority but because we thought, given the choice, on balance it was probably better if Britain wasn’t entirely shackled to an unelected cabal of career bureaucrats with very little but their own preservation in mind, this is a solution we could only have dreamt of.
Because, let’s be honest, even under the most favourable of circumstances, leaving without a deal was going to be a bumpy ride, even with all the months of preparation put in place by the Government.
Ever since Christmas 2015, when it first became clear the referendum was going to happen, Brexit has been the social, political and intellectual equivalent of a gammy knee, a crippling, nagging obsession that has, quite frankly, hobbled the nation. Pictured: Michael Gove and Boris Johnson
But with the added strain of the pandemic, and the economic pressures imposed by lockdown, December 31 was shaping up to be a perfect storm.
For me this deal represents not only salvation in that respect, but also something much more personally profound. The end to five years of personal turmoil that have turned my life inside out and that now, finally, I can start to put behind me.
Sometimes the effects of the past few years seem so profound and complex even I, who am not generally lost for opinions, struggle to put them into words. When I look back over the emotions and consequences of the Referendum I still, all these years on, feel simply overwhelmed.
There are so many memories that come flooding back from the morning of the result, back in June 2016. The first is the sheer shock and surprise of hearing Leave had won, and the dawning realisation that the repercussions were going to be seismic, both for the country but also for us as a family.
Even as those around me celebrated and the messages of congratulations came in, I knew it wasn’t going to be straightforward.
While my husband Michael’s relatives were delighted, my lot were pretty desolate, to put it mildly. My parents have lived in Italy for over 40 years. Now they faced the prospect, perhaps, of having to return to the UK, a country now alien to them.
Equally distressing was the fact the close friendships, the very weft and warp on the life I had been building over the past 15 years, now seemed irreparably broken.
That extended family, whose children had all grown up around each other, who had supported each other through the triumphs and tragedies of the past decade, who had spent holidays and weekends together, that happy gang was gone.
So yes, Leave had won. But, like many families riven by this issue, we paid a heavy personal price for that victory.
Let’s be honest, even under the most favourable of circumstances, leaving without a deal was going to be a bumpy ride, even with all the months of preparation put in place by the Government
For others there was also a devastating political cost to pay. One of my greatest regrets about the whole Referendum is that ultimately it ended the premiership of David Cameron which, when you consider what was to come, seems with hindsight to have been a great loss.
I’ll never forget the look of anguish on Samantha Cameron’s face as she watched her husband deliver his resignation from the street outside No 10. There was so much barely concealed emotion in her expression, a mixture of shock, heartbreak and unmistakable anger.
We had last seen each other at the 50th birthday party of a mutual friend, Andrew Feldman, where we had argued over my husband’s Brexit stance.
That row had been a real turning point for me, and I remember it clearly. It was shortly after my husband had thrown in his lot with Leave, and emotions were running high. Already people in our wider friendship group were beginning to take sides.
Nevertheless, Andrew’s wife, a kind and generous woman, invited us anyway. But I had real reservations about going. Various friends had already made it clear in no uncertain terms they considered Michael’s actions not only politically irresponsible but also personally treacherous.
No 10 had been putting huge pressure on him from every possible angle. It had been a relentless few weeks, and I was in no mood for a party.
I just thought it would be better off all round if we kept our heads down and stayed away, not least because I didn’t want to spoil Andrew’s birthday celebrations.
But Andrew’s wife was adamant we should, and that it would be fine. Kate Fall, David’s right-hand woman, also got in touch to say that Samantha and David were very much looking forward to seeing us there.
It felt like a three-line whip, so I resolved to go. But something told me it wasn’t going to be much fun.
It wasn’t, not for me at any rate. There were warm speeches and delicious food, but the conversation was aggressively Remain. I was tired and uncomfortable and, as soon as I could, I began to make my excuses. As I walked towards the exit, I paused to say thank you to Andrew, who was sitting next to Samantha, and that’s when it happened.
For me this deal represents not only salvation in that respect, but also something much more personally profound
The incident was later leaked, presumably by a fellow guest, to the newspapers. According to reports, Samantha launched into a ‘tirade’, accusing me of ‘betrayal’, which was pretty accurate.
I had never seen Samantha like that. So upset and frustrated.
And it was more than just anger at the situation; it was the anguish of a woman who, like me, had seen her life twisted out of shape by politics, a person who had no choice but to choose between her husband and her friend because politics and power had made it impossible to choose both.
All of this, and more besides, informed my feeling that Referendum morning. I felt numb and paralysed and not quite sure what to do next.
Had the Remain campaign won, the tensions that had been building for the past six months would have slowly but surely subsided.
A few drinks and some home truths would have cleared the air and, in time, we might have become friends again. But now, the rift that had opened up between us would only deepen and become more raw.
In fact, the result on that June morning was only just the beginning of the battle, one that has raged ever since.
Leaving was never going to be a straightforward intellectual choice about whether or not to remain part of a trade organisation. It was a highly emotional existentialist decision based on so much more than facts and figures. It was a fight for the soul of the nation.
Had the Remain campaign won, the tensions that had been building for the past six months would have slowly but surely subsided
And so it has transpired. The country has torn itself to shreds, suffered paroxysms of agonies getting to where we are today. Brexit has revealed a deep divide in our society, one which at times it seemed could never be reconciled. But now, at last, the end is in sight.
I was never one of those hardline ‘no surrender’ Brexiteers. I always felt that some sort of grown-up compromise would have to be reached.
Had we left without a deal, and the country been plunged into an even deeper crisis by the combination of that and the pandemic, I honestly don’t think I would have been able to live with myself. And I think if they’re honest with themselves, so would many other of my fellow Brexiteers.
That is why this is truly a great moment for Boris Johnson and his negotiating team.
Even the most ardent Remainer would now have to acknowledge that they have succeeded, against the odds, where so many others have failed, and in so doing brought the nation as close as it has ever been to making its peace with Brussels.
Of course the end to this nightmare does not mean I don’t regret the loss of my old life, or of all those people I once called friends.
It doesn’t mean my parents won’t still have to jump through various hoops to stay in their lives, or that many others won’t face equally inconvenient changes. And it won’t suddenly magic away all the anger and vitriol spilled by both sides of the debate.
But it will begin the process of healing. Perhaps most importantly it will begin to unite the country again. Which, at a time when we need each other more than ever, is an important turning point.
As for me, I look forward to laying all those mistakes and regrets to rest and finally moving on. If I never have to write another word on the subject, I shall be only too delighted.
For as a friend of mine, one of those who has remained kind and true through all this, said to me yesterday, Britain may face a multitude of problems in the months and years ahead — but at long last Brexit’s not one of them.
Source: Read Full Article