“Hey there we have Mister Brexit!” , a bouncer from an Amsterdam café suddenly called me a few years ago. I tried to enter the pub with a group of British friends, whom I had taken for a few days before King‘s Day.
“Mister Brexit? Is that what they call you here?” , they said astonishingly. I was just as surprised. The bouncer was passionate Radio 1 listener. “I can’t turn that thing on or I hear that guy from London about the Brexit hookers again,” he explained. “It doesn‘t stop, huh with you?”
I could confirm that, yes. I had been married to Brexit for the past five years, whether I wanted it or not. It was a curse and a blessing. It’s a curse, since it fully determined my life in an extremely intensive way. I canceled friends‘ marriages. Birthdays, festivals and even vacations didn’t go on because there was another totally unpredictable turn in the process that I had to report on.
But it was also a blessing. An immense fascinating and almost soap-like political thriller that I was allowed to sit on top of my nose as a correspondent. I wouldn‘t have missed it for gold.
Brexit. A word that I had never taken in my mouth at the beginning of my correspondentship at the end of 2014, let alone knowing what it would be for. I arrived in a babbling Britain, with a coalition government led by Prime Minister Cameron who was extremely in the middle of the political spectrum. The news was somewhat predictable and clear.
Yes, Cameron had planned such a referendum as a kind of vague dot on the horizon, but in the political bubble in Westminster, nobody took that dot very seriously at the time. It would all run off.
It was also the time I had to make the greatest effort to get a British story into the Journal. Europe was in the grip of the refugee crisis, something that the United Kingdom barely played a role in. Europe was also a crunch of the Greek crisis, which was completely about the euro. It’s also something where the British only watched from the sidelines.
Until June 23, 2016, the day of the referendum. The day everything changed. With an aftermath we‘ll talk about for generations to come. A day when the news pulled me through a long car wash as a correspondent. With no end in sight.
Countless times, Tim de Wit had to take the word Brexit in his mouth:
In addition to Brexit, I was faced with terrorist attacks that quickly followed each other in 2017. I will never forget how I arrived less than five minutes after the Westminster Bridge attack near parliament. There was no police ribbon tense yet. In the distance I saw victims lying on the bridge. People who, as it turned out, had been killed by a total idiot.
I froze. My throat dried out. I had never seen such suffering with my own eyes before. This was why I never cherished the ambition to become correspondent in conflict zones. How you, as a journalist, are then able to park those emotions and then report on such an act of terror for hours is still a mystery to me. But it succeed.
Later two months later, someone blew themselves up at the Manchester Arena. Two weeks after the London Bridge attack, less than ten minutes’ walk from my house. Again those flashing lights, the panic and disaster around me again.
As if 2017 hadn‘t suffered enough disasters, eleven days after the London Bridge attack was the most fatal British disaster of the 21st century. The Grenfell Tower fire. More than 70 people died in a devastating sea of flames while they were stuck in their own homes. All thanks to a highly flammable wall cladding, which should never have been on the outside of that residential tower.
Again I stood among indescribable grief. Among family members who looked at a blackened tower in sheer despair and knew they would never see their loved ones again. When writing down, the goose bumps are back on my arms. It painfully exposed how people in social rental homes are neglected. In many places, fire safety was revealed by a Nieuwsuur report that I made half a year after the fire.
I also visited Ireland regularly. A country that has been going through a major modernization blow in recent years. The introduction of gay marriage, the adoption of a law that would legalize abortion: all sign that the primeval conservative Catholic Church has finally lost hold on Irish society.
Working as a correspondent in Ireland was always a relief. Irishmen are the nicest people in Europe. Always helpful, always friendly and also willing to share very personal stories, revealed in the reports Iabout this referendums.
But above all, the last 6.5 years have been about that one word. From a rollercoaster that didn’t end and which my successor Fleur Launspach will enjoy a lot of fun.
It was an honour and privilege to report on that for DecceIT. To try to make all those viewers, listeners and readers understand that or so complex Brexit file a little better. My whirlstorm is coming to an end. And hopefully my nickname of that bouncer, too.
Together with his successor Fleur Launspach, Tim looks back at the highlights of his correspondentship from his famous balcony: