My story begins like most other stories do; I was young and filled with optimism and, in my third year of university, I was offered a chance to study abroad as part of the Erasmus programme. Without hesitating, I accepted a placement in Sheffield. The decision was made in a heartbeat but it was a decision which would define my adult life and change me forever. In September 2009, I arrived in Sheffield on my own from my native country of Denmark – it was my first time in England, I was young and the world was at my feet. After a few days, I moved into university halls and, within weeks, I had made lifelong (British) friends. It didn’t take long for me to fit in; after being exposed to the tranquil of The Peak District, the charm of Bakewell and the beauty of Chatsworth, something in me had changed; I had found what I never knew I was longing for, and for perhaps the first time in my life, I felt truly at home.
The decision to stay in England for another year was easy; I was accepted as an MA Student at The University of Sheffield and I moved into a shared house with my British friends from the first year; the ‘adventure’ could continue and the thought of having to go home to Denmark could be safely ignored again. During my second year, I met my wife-to-be – a lovely girl from the town of Doncaster – and the notion of having to return to Denmark became unthinkable. After the second year came to an end, my wife-to-be and I rented an apartment together and we both managed to find jobs in the same area. In spite of financial struggles which await most people who are fresh out of university and in entry-level jobs, we were truly happy.
Fast forward to the beginning of 2016, my wife and I married the year before, we had bought a lovely little house in Warrington, we had both been given promotions and now had a decent income and my wife was pregnant with our son. Life was, by all accounts, bliss. However, as the saying goes; ‘into each life a little rain must fall’. The rain came in the form of the EU referendum and from the time it was announced, I started to slowly panic. My wife and I spoke about the implications of a Leave vote in great detail and we decided that, in this unlikely event, we – and especially our son – would be better off if we cut our losses and moved to Denmark.
On the 24th of June, we were in a caravan in the Peak District for a long weekend with my mother who was visiting from Denmark. I was always keen to show my family the beauty of the country that I had chosen as my home. In the morning, I woke up at 5am and immediately reached for the remote to see the final results and I heard my wife say ‘don’t do it’. As countless other EU citizens, it was about to dawn on me that I had woken up in a different country. ‘We’ll put the house for sale next week’ my wife said, and I don’t think I have ever felt as helpless and lost as I did in that moment when I simply nodded in agreement.
We had planned to do a day trip in Bakewell with my mother that day and I reluctantly went along. We went for breakfast in a small café and I excused myself and went to the toilet where I broke down in tears; the country I had come to love had been tainted, nothing was the same and I felt myself hating the native Brits, forever suspicious that they may have voted Leave.
While my wife voted Remain, most of her family voted Leave. A year earlier, during my speech at my wedding, I had thanked my in-laws for how welcoming they had been and how grateful I was for being a part of the family. How quickly things change; after the referendum, I couldn’t stand the sight of them. In true English fashion, Brexit was never discussed and my wife insisted that I did not mention Brexit – adhering to social etiquette seemed to be far more important than addressing the elephant in the room. To this day, I have no idea if they comprehend how much hurt it caused me.
Behind the scenes, however, the plan of moving to Denmark was slowly, and in all secrecy, taking form; I was preparing Danish job applications and our house was for sale. Seeing the ‘for sale’ sign outside our little house – which had been our home for less than a year – killed me inside.
At this point, my wife told her family that we were planning on moving to Denmark and it was no surprise that she failed to mention the reason behind. To this day, the story is that ‘we were always looking to move to Denmark some day’ and that Brexit was, if anything, a minor influence. The truth is that without Brexit, there is no way I would have agreed to leave England behind.
After a few months, I was lucky enough to get offered a job where the salary was just high enough for us to cope in a small one bedroom flat in Copenhagen and our house sold in a matter of months; the plan of moving to Denmark – which before Brexit had been merely a vague notion – was being put into action.
We arrived in Copenhagen on a rainy and bleak evening on the 25th of November 2016 with 4 massive suitcases, our son’s pram and a joint feeling of uneasiness. The next few months would be incredibly tough; my wife was generally optimistic but I was struggling to settle into a life that no longer belonged to me. Our son was still being breastfed so my wife would stay at home with him for several months before she could even start applying for a job and start trying to get a social network – all of it without speaking Danish. Needless to say, I was really worried about her welfare but she was made of much tougher stuff; she thrived and I struggled.
At this point, there’s a twist in my story that I fear few similar stories contain – everything turns out better than we could possibly have hoped for; our son starts nursery and thrives there, my wife finds a job doing the same as she did in the UK and she start taking Danish lessons in the evenings. A month ago, we bought a big flat in Copenhagen which is bigger than the house we had in the UK. We now live 500 metres from a lovely school, which our son will automatically enrol at when he’s old enough, and – thanks to the infrastructure in Copenhagen – I can get to work in 15 minutes (a far cry from the 1.5 hours each way on the M62 in Manchester). The relationship with my wife’s parents has also improved massively as they have been incredibly supportive of us moving to Denmark. I think we’re closer now than we ever were when we lived in the UK.
I am not oblivious to the fact that I am very, very lucky; I am lucky to have a transferable skill in an industry where skilled labour is sought after, I am incredibly lucky to have a lovely wife who is both open-minded and strong enough to move to a new country and flourish. I am very lucky that Brexit happened at a time where my son was so young that he will never recall living anywhere but Denmark and I am very lucky that we had the resources to make the move to Denmark in the first place. Not everyone is as lucky as I am and my heart goes out to those EU Citizens in the UK who live under constant strain in the hostile environment that the UK, in particular England, has become.
You are probably left wondering what the point of this story really is if everything turned out great. The truth is that there is still something missing. England, to me, has a special intrinsic tranquillity that I can neither grasp nor define and yet it is as clear as day. I wonder if it’s a coincidence that England has produced so many poets, writers and artist or if there is indeed ‘something in the air’.
Denmark, in spite of being better than the UK on every objectively-measurable parameter, is also bleak and sad in its own little way; I find myself missing England every day and I doubt the feeling will ever go away. When I had to leave England for a better life for my family, I left a part of me behind – a part that I cherished and that I cannot seem to find in Denmark, though it is not for lack of trying.
The point is that Brexit brought with it significant emotional turmoil for every EU Citizen who called the UK their home and that someone like me, who has successfully relocated to another country in the wake of Brexit, are still bound by it. In contrast to the picture most often painted in the media, Brexit transcends financial stability, trade deals and rotting crops – it caused, and is still causing, despair and angst for 3 million people and the fact that this has gone (fairly) unnoticed, unpunished and entirely unremedied is the biggest crime of them all. I pray that it will just go away and that things will return to the way they once were but I fear that the damage done is irreversible.
Many years ago, during a weekend in Windermere, I bought a small oil painting from a gallery. The painting depicts the twilight over a lake in the Lake District. The details of the painting are so immaculate that just looking at the painting can make you feel that you are truly there, if only for a short while. It now hangs in my office where I can glance at it from time to time. When I do, I find myself feeling grateful that I had 7 lovely years in that beautiful country.