As I sit here on the eve of the Eurovision finale – which will, by the time you read this, have produced 2017’s winner – I cannot help but be reminded of the monumental changes which have occurred over the year. You see, this time last year my friends and I were watching the flamboyant pantomime that is Eurovision in our Airbnb apartment in St Petersburg. We were a group of Erasmus students at the University of Helsinki, who having just completed our exams, hopped on the overnight ferry, taking us from the ports of Finland’s capital to the harbour of Russia’s second largest city.
On arrival we first stopped off at a restaurant for a spot of brunch, which we ate in the shadow of the dome of St Isaac’s Cathedral situated opposite our chosen venue. After a day of sight-seeing and before our first night out in the city, I settled down to Eurovision, wine glass in hand, and watched the hopeful contestants sing to the continent.
You may be wondering whether there is a point to any of this. Well, at risk of being labelled – God Forbid! – a “remoaner”, this was of course when Britain was still in the European Union and I was a British student studying in a fellow European country and taking advantage of the mobility opportunities available to EU citizens. In fact, during my time in Finland, I also visited a number of other European countries from the East, the West and the South. I couldn’t go much more north as after all I was already domiciled in one of the Nordic countries, although I did venture even further north when I holidayed in a village called Saariselkä in Northern Lapland. I also benefited from the teaching and educational opportunities offered to me as an EU exchange student at the University of Helsinki.
I cannot express how much I loved my year abroad. It was undoubtedly the best thing I’ve ever done and I would implore every student who has the opportunity to study abroad to seize it with gusto. However, today the terrain is much rockier and the political landscape much less certain. Britain has voted to leave the European Union and whilst leading Brexiteers still lay claim that access to and across Europe will be as easy outside the Union as it was inside, many of us just are not buying it. Experts (sorry; I know we are not meant to trust them anymore) have warned British workers to expect rising unemployment and declining real-term pay over the coming years as we depart from the EU, whilst companies like Goldman Sachs, Vodafone and HSBC have announced plans to move jobs from the UK to the continent. The pound is still struggling against the euro and the Bank of England has just downgraded its economic growth forecast for the UK to 1.9%. The full scale of our reliance on EU nationals for the running of our NHS has been most vociferously pointed out after Brexit (how helpful) with over 10% of all doctors and 4% of all nurses originating from the EU. Quite simply our NHS could not run without them. Worryingly, a record number of EU students left their posts in the NHS in 2016.
Having attended different university events regarding the implications of Brexit, there is a palpable anxiety and fear amongst staff that Britain’s decision to leave the EU will cripple programs such as Erasmus. Universities have also seen a fall in applications from European students due to the persistent uncertainty surrounding tuition fees and visa-free travel between the UK and the continent. A number of European students, who were planning to work and reside here after the completion of their studies, are now resigned to returning either to their home countries or to other EU member states.
Now, many will argue that this lament is merely the whining of a student who underneath it all wishes to gallivant freely and cheaply across Europe and who wishes to deny the “will of the people”. I think it has become clear to most of us that Britain will be leaving the EU, but this is not to say that we wish to follow the route of a hard Brexit and flirt with the notion of no-deal and a resort to WTO rules. Although the Eurovision seems to most Brits a silly but fun-filled spectacle, it has reminded me of the deep ties that the UK and the EU share and that the intermingling of our economies and cultures has made it impossible to part ways under a ‘no deal’ scenario without causing severe damage to both sides.
Not only do I want us to desist with the hard Brexit rhetoric because it insults the experiences and advantages, both educational and cultural, that I and many others have cultivated as an EU citizen but also because it is an exercise in self-destruction. Yes, we are leaving the European Union but if we are honest, and dare I say true to ourselves, we should swallow our pride and push for membership of the single market. This way, we can satisfy the calls to leave the Union and the calls from businesses to protect the economy all the while still satisfying those like myself who would like to be as close to Europe as we already feel.
Who knew that Eurovision could be so insightful?