My commute to work yesterday was just like any other, until I was interrupted from my thoughts by a fellow passenger: “I don’t like your bag,” he said. Looking down, I remembered that I was carrying a tote bag emblazoned with the words: “The EU is not my bag”. I thought for a moment it was the colour – a vivid magenta – that had offended him. Then it dawned on me: the EU was, in fact, his bag.
“That’s OK, you don’t have to,” I replied. My response seemed to infuriate him further.
“I don’t know whether you’re racist or stupid – or even both,” he said.
This came as something of a shock; I’m not either of those things, and I couldn’t think how my tame bag showed otherwise.
That wasn’t the end of the criticism. I was told that my bag was proof that I endorsed Nigel Farage. I replied that I endorsed leaving the EU. For several stops this continued, as I was called thick or racist in front of other commuters. All because of my Brexit bag.
I did ask him to stop. But after he replied telling me he was a lawyer and demanded my name, this rather one-sided conversation continued.
Eventually, at Bank, my riled-up fellow commuter finally left the train. Of course, this wasn’t the first time I have had stick for voting for Brexit and nor is it likely to be the last. But nonetheless, it still shocked me. Even as the founder of a group called Leavers of London, which is a networking group for those who have been on the receiving end of the Brexit backlash, this incident seemed unprovoked and unnecessary.
I’ve heard stories from fellow Leave supporters who have had similar experiences after admitting to colleagues, friends and family that they voted the ‘wrong way’ on June 23rd, 2016. Teachers that I know have had papers chucked at them and been excluded from meetings for voicing their thoughts on Brexit. I’ve heard of Leave-voting musicians being turned down for work. Friendship breakdowns between warring Leave and Remain supporters are, sadly, typical, too. And casual insults from colleagues can be the new norm for the isolated Brexiteer.
Sadly, my experience is that some Remain supporters who talk up the EU’s values of tolerance, open-mindedness and respect don’t always practice what they preach. The EU is, or should be, just like any other democratic organisation: not immune from criticism. But the referendum seems to have made some people forget this and instead throw around insults like ‘racist’ to shut the conversation down.
My experience shows the risk of coming out as a Leave voter in London. But it’s worth remembering that for every four Londoners on the Tube, at least one of them voted for Brexit. Tomorrow, when I head to work, I’ll carry my Brexit bag, just as before.
Lucy Harris is the founder of Leavers of London