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“There are very strong, very real fears”: Stylist France editor Audrey Diwan on the French reaction to Brexit

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Audrey Diwan

Audrey Diwan

With the UK still reeling from the repercussions of Friday's Brexit vote, we caught up with editor-at-large of Stylist France, Audrey Diwan, to hear the reaction from across the Channel.

How did you feel when you saw the news that Britain had voted out of the EU?

Before the vote, I spent time with the UK Stylist team and we felt deeply that the referendum would have a different result and that the worrying pre-vote polls would be proved wrong. 

That’s what happened in France when Marine Le Pen (the leader of the Front National who gained an unprecedented 20% of the vote in the 2012 presidential election) almost won.

Comparing this case to history, we all worried but believed deep down it wasn't going to happen because everybody knew the risks and everyone would vote – especially all the young people who were on the side of Remain.

On Friday, I woke up at 2.30am and saw that the first results said it was around 321k for Brexit, against 314k who opposed it. In the middle of the night I was like “Is this going to happen?” It was like a nightmare because it didn’t feel like it really could happen.

What has the feeling been like in France towards the referendum?

We’re also kind of afraid for ourselves – Europe is in question now. The fear is so strong because nobody can begin to imagine what the future would be like without the EU.

For France and for Germany, there isn’t even an imaginary world without this organisation. At the moment we have problems like the refugee crisis where you have desperate people who need to come to us – I don’t know what will happen if we’re not all standing together to solve these issues; we won’t be able to give any answers to those who need them, so there are very strong, very real fears.

How do you feel relations between our countries could be affected?

It’s just a feeling that we’re going backwards and walls are being put up. I was in Hungary last year when they sealed off the borders to refugees and saw what happened. Of course, there are now complicated economic problems and everyone is looking at the US and wondering if Trump is going to succeed, too. It feels like the walls of the 80s are being raised again.

It’s a very lonely feeling, and whenever we’ve interviewed young people it seems to be so against their philosophy. It’s really weird to see the old world building walls while the young people want to be together; it’s like a fracture, a generational divide that we feel strongly.

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Remain campaigners protest against the Brexit vote in Parliament Square on Friday

What are attitudes like in France towards the EU? Is there a similar call for a referendum?

We have a very strange feeling in France when talking about referendum because historically when we have been asked about it, the government doesn’t listen.

Some of the people who were looking at last week’s results in an optimistic way would say that democracy won because you are in a country where you are asked the question and you can decide.

In France right now we have LoiTravail (Labor Law) and the whole country is on strike against it but the government used article 49.3 from the constitution to force the new law into motion. So with the Brexit - on the one hand we are very sad but on the other, it’s a victory for democracy.

However, I don’t think any country will now want to ask their citizens that same question because the consequences are so unknown. I don’t think we will be having a referendum soon.

Obviously France is a country where demonstrations and activist movements are rife - do you feel the outcome today might politically engage young people more in the UK?

I’m very surprised that the young people in the UK are not taking to the streets more to peacefully fight for their future. If this was in France it might be useless to do so, but the young people would be in the streets protesting.

I feel that the result for young people could hopefully create a strong virtual community for those who feel we belong to the same continent and still want to belong to the same place. Maybe I’m being too optimistic but let’s see.

Images: Getty Features. Top image: Pro-EU campaigners from France rally support for the Remain vote outside London's Eurostar terminal last week

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