BBC Radio York | Brexit | Article 50

BBC Radio York Brexit special | Article 50

BBC Radio York Brexit Special on Article 50 Anniversary

Is it still possible to be happy?

On 29th March 2018, the first anniversary of Theresa May’s triggering of Article 50, BBC Radio York aired a Brexit Special.  I was one of nine EU citizens who took part in a lively discussion with Jonathan Cowap.  Here are my ‘bits':

You can listen to the full feature below (I hope you will – it was very interesting, and not all views were the same as mine!):

The full programme is available for the first 29 days after airing on the BBC website (click link)

 I will just firstly mention a few things that I didn’t manage to say on air, but that I feel need to be said:

Jonathan said at the end of my main interview that, having met me, he wouldn’t dare do any of the things I mentioned the Home Office might do to me. I know it was a quip, and actually Jonathan was lovely and supportive on- and off-air, but really, that light dismissal of what I’d said – which was actually very serious and pretty terrifying, if you think about it – kind of echoes the general dismissal of our feelings in all this.  Why shouldn’t 3.5 million EU citizens, for whom the UK is home, not be entitled to an opinion on this crucial matter, and why shouldn’t we be angry and upset?  With that in mind, however, I am really pleased that we were given the opportunity to air our views today, and that plenty of time was given to our segment.  I am grateful to BBC York for this, and for how welcoming and sensitive they were to our concerns.

Regarding the age-old “there has been a democratic vote, the people have spoken” argument, besides what I said in my interview, I would also add that if that was the case, we wouldn’t need elections every five years, we would still have slavery in the UK, women wouldn’t have the vote…the list goes on!

Jonathan also said that people are not changing their minds, but he then asked me another question straight away, so I didn’t respond to this point, which is actually an important point! People are changing their minds; just take a look at the #RemainerNow hashtag on Twitter.  Also, I know Therese (who represented Malta this morning) refused to say which way she voted in the referendum (one of the great injustices of the referendum was that some EU citizens did get a vote, based on their countries’ relationships with Britain that are independent of the EU, i.e. Ireland, and Commonwealth countries), but if you listen carefully to what she says about not having been given the right information, I have an inkling she may have voted leave and now wish she hadn’t!

I will also add that our discussions continued in the car park after the interviews.  It was all friendly and it was good to be able to talk not only to people who shared my views (most of us there), but also those that don’t.  When we spoke to the two people who weren’t worried, it was apparent that they weren’t aware of many issues such as EU citizens being detained for deportation even while the UK is still in the EU, the CSI requirement, which although it is supposedly going to be disregarded for ‘Settled Status’, is still being brought up by the government on a regular basis, and a raft of other issues.  I don’t wish to panic people, but it is important that EU citizens are aware of the issues we face, so we can take steps to protect ourselves (such as gathering/saving documents) and can put pressure on our own governments to ensure we are protected.

To those that tell us to ‘go home if you don’t like it’, I will re-iterate that the UK is my home.  I have lived here for 27 years, in Luxembourg for 16 years and in Italy for 2.  But also, what happens to the British spouses and children of so many EU citizens living in the UK?  Unless they have dual/multiple citizenships, they won’t be able to easily move with them without freedom of movement; they will be subject to each individual country’s immigration laws for non-EU citizens.

And I will also add that my concern is equally strong for UK citizens living in other EU countries who, at best, as things stand, will retain the right to live in the country they are in, but not freedom of movement in the rest of the EU.  This is particularly problematic for those who work and live across borders, e.g. between Gibraltar and Spain, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and Luxembourg and its neighbouring countries Belgium, France and Germany.

Finally, regarding my response to Yava (apologies if I spelt that completely wrong!), I re-iterate: Why should there be a cost? Brexit is not a natural disaster; it has been created by politicians for selfish party-political gain.  It is not inevitable. And that leads me to the happiness issue and positive psychology in the context of all of this…

So what about happiness? How do I reconcile my anger and my campaigning with my work in and study of Positive Psychology?

Actually, I do this quite easily, because for a start, all emotions are valid, and it would be unhealthy to suppress any emotions deemed ‘negative’ and try to replace them with an artificial positivity.  That is not what Positive Psychology (PP) is about, and is certainly not conducive to happiness.

In fact, campaigning for change in the face of injustice or to correct a wrong, can be a very positive action towards increasing happiness, as happiness is, contrary to popular belief, not a selfish endeavour.  A big component of happiness is about the society and world we live in, relationships with other people, and a sense of fairness and justice.  To be truly happy, we need to look outside of ourselves and work on making all these things better, and that is exactly what I’m doing when I’m campaigning to stop Brexit.

An important point to note, however, is that we need to ensure we look after ourselves while we’re doing all this campaigning, because negative emotions can have a very real negative physical effect on our bodies, but positive emotions have the power to undo those effects (Fredrickson 2001, p. 221).  I’ll admit, I don’t always succeed at this bit lately myself; 20 months since the referendum in 2016 have taken their toll – I’d say that on balance, I’m still happy as there are so many wonderful things happening in my life, and I make sure I celebrate these, but there is an underlying sadness these days.  Sometimes the frustration, anger and worry do take over, but doing what I do for a living, and knowing what I know about happiness, I try to fit as many of these activities into my days/weeks as possible:

  • 3 good things: Write down three good things about your day, every evening, along with why they happened / why they matter.
  • Meditation: This can be as simple as a short breathing meditation for one minute.  Try using apps such as Calm or Headspace (they do free trials), or find meditations on YouTube.
  • Exercise: Go for a walk at lunchtime, do some stretches to break up long times spent at the computer writing blog posts etc (note to self – stretch now!), dance, swim, do something that gets those endorphins flooding your system!
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Spend time with your friends and family, laugh, do things you enjoy!

So yes, I am aware that when I talk about Brexit, it is all doom and gloom because, frankly, I can’t dress it up as anything but a disaster, and I don’t think it is reasonable to expect me, or anyone else who has looked at what’s happening and feels  the same, to do so.  I will not ‘get behind’ something that I fundamentally believe, based on well-evidenced facts (including the government’s own impact reports which show that every possible Brexit scenario will damage the UK economy), to be damaging to a country I love and to me and many people I care about.  I will keep speaking out, I will keep marching, and I will keep contributing funds to various campaigns to stop Brexit.  If it does go ahead after all, I’ll campaign for Britain to rejoin (even though that will never be on the cushy terms the UK has now!) – whether from the UK, or from another country!

But, I will also continue to celebrate all the great things in my life, and I will continue to be grateful for the wonderful friendships that Brexit has brought me; and on that subject, 3 good things about today:

  • I met more lovely EU citizens, including a lovely lady I can chat to in German (I’m really enjoying connecting with so many EU citizens and reviving my languages!).
  • I managed to send my feedback – on time – to my friend on my course, who is my ‘assignment buddy’ for our current module.
  • My husband came home from work in a great mood as he loves his new very snazzy work laptop.  It was great to see him all smiley and slightly giddy with excitement about his new ‘toy’ :)


In the interview, I mention the ‘In Limbo’ book.  This is a collection of testimonies from EU citizens in the UK (and a few from UK citizens in the EU, but their own book, In Limbo Too, will be out soon – watch this space!).  If you want to find out more about the real impact of the referendum, before Brexit has even happened, is on people – your friends, neighbours, colleagues, relatives – then please get this book:


Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). ‘The Role of Positive Emotions in Positive Psychology.’ American Psychologist 56, 3, 218-226.



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