By Tracy Phillips
LAST weekend was stressful. Desperate to get away before the bad weather prevented me from leaving London, I got to Heathrow about five hours early. Sheer force of optimism, and a desire for some sun, was going to get my plane off the ground and en route to Cyprus. I was sure. Or at least, I was praying it was; I needed to escape the combined disaster of Storm Dennis and Brexit. Gale force winds, torrential rain and the chaos of Johnson’s sloganeering as an excuse for government could only end one way, propelling the UK, with me in it, towards Brexit oblivion.
An operational delay of an hour or so gave me plenty of time to catch up on my book club novel and, of course, social media. That’s when I noticed another storm brewing: Colin. A name that neither inspires absolute horror nor real passion, on the surface at least. (Obviously, that ignores any popular cultural references to a certain Colin Firth in a wet, white shirt as Mr Darcy). But a Twitter user called Colin Browning did manage to provoke some heated debate and a few rousing hashtags such as, #ohcolin and #wetoldyouso all weekend. Mr Browning got 30,000 likes when he very publicly complained about having to wait in a queue at Schiphol Airport for 55 minutes: “Absolutely disgusting service at Schiphol airport. 55 minutes we have been stood in the immigration queue. This isn’t the Brexit I voted for.”
Was he being ironic? Surely, he must have been? Some Twitter users tried to respond with a serious discussion about the rules for travelling between Schengen and non-Schengen countries and the consequences of voting to end free movement. Mostly, he was just mocked. Some users wondered exactly what kind of Brexit Colin thought he was voting for: An “Australian style” points system, “Norway” or Canada-plus”? Perhaps it was the one where we leave the club, but still get exclusive rights to all the same benefits because we are British, after all! Who cares, as long as we “Get Brexit Done!” Anyway, who on earth thought we would ever have to wait in any airport queue when we voted to end free movement? In response to Colin’s viral tweet, Schiphol airport tweeted that the delays were down to a staff training day and nothing to do with Brexit. Not much of a storm, after all. Well, not yet anyway. However, the Brussels Times online reported that, “Schiphol has previously warned that Brexit could see travellers from the UK facing delays upon arriving in Amsterdam, with government analysis expecting up for 50 minutes wait.” So pay attention, Brexiteers. It may still happen.
Technically, nothing has actually changed yet; we are in a transition period until the end of the year and are still able to use the EU passport lanes when travelling in 2020. My new British passport no longer bears the words, “European Union”, sadly, but that didn’t stop me using the gate for EU passport holders at Larnaca airport. As for my fellow UK passport holding passengers, they divided into two camps: those Brits who decided to queue for the EU gates and those who went for the non-EU or “All Passports” gates. For some, there was a moment of hesitation. It does not seem to have been made clear, like most things to do with Brexit, exactly where we stand right now. Which direction are we heading in? Where will it end? Which queue should I join? Brits always love a queue. And talking about a queue. And which queue you choose to join really does seem to matter.
In many ways, the question of the passport queue is symbolic of the deeper cultural divide that has been exposed as part of the broader Brexit debate. The era of Britpop is over. We are now divided along many different lines, not just EU and All Passports: old and young; city dwellers and small towns; North and South; university educated and school leavers; the so-called “liberal elite” and the rest; experts and who cares what they think? Judging by the Brexiteer gloating over our new imagined “independence” on Twitter, this storm still has a long way to go. And when we do have to start using the non-EU passport gates, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of queue time to admire those new blue passports the UK government will start issuing later this year.