On this clear, sunny Friday, the weather belies the fact that the UK has undertaken an unprecedented and improbable act of self-harm. That torrential rain marked the final day in which Britain remained a decisive member of the European Union, feels like some kind of reverse symbolism. Today may be bright, but clouds are gathering.
I still remember a chat I had with my mum when I was about 15 years old. With the Cold War over and German reunification in full swing, people began to talk about the end of history. Having just watched a documentary covering the events of the 20th century, I asked if I would experience similar events in my lifetime. Her answer would be proven correct several years later.
While Thursday night was historic, it didn’t feel that dramatic when David Dimbleby announced the result of the referendum. Yet as commentators started to report on the grim reality unfolding, I felt a numb grief, my country divided, its future uncertain.
Today, as I walk around Brighton, it’s as though nothing has changed. Maybe that’s how things should be: keep calm and carry on. Yet unlike an act of terrorism, in which the results are material, barbaric and visible, the abstract and distant nature of politics means its ramifications can pass by unnoticed. Decline will come gradually, then all at once.
Others take to social media and deal with the fallout by crafting pithy and pertinent sketches. I attempt the same, only to feel envious of those who have truly mastered the art. But this response concerns me. In the videos shared following the floods in Paris, and again of those seen in London, you’d often hear astonished laughter in the background. An odd reaction if you see these scenes as evidence that climate change is no longer a future concern, but a real and present danger. Is humour the only way we can process intangible threats?
We see similar joviality in response to some of our most colourful politicians. I laughed when Boris Johnson declared that Wiff Waff was coming home, but not when he claimed Barack Obama’s part-Kenyan heritage drove him towards an anti-British sentiment. I raised a wry smile watching Nigel Farage brazenly ask Herman van Rompuy “who are you?” in the European Parliament, but his claim that “independence day” had been achieved “without a single bullet being fired” was distasteful given the murder of Jo Cox MP just a week beforehand.
The time for laughter is over. The situation we face is deadly serious. The specifics of our relationship with the EU will matter little should we hand power to those that have demonstrated nothing but a wish to act in their own self-interest, regardless of the cost to others.
This isn’t funny any more.