Brexit. A word running through every Londoner’s mind, a word permeating just about every conversation, a word changing the future of an entire nation state.
Okay, impressive introduction… but what does “Brexit” even mean?
This term is a combination of the words “British” and “exit.” About a week ago, the United Kingdom voted whether to stay or leave the European Union, a political/economic alliance of 28 nation states. Basically, leaving the EU would would give the UK more independence to make its own decisions (i.e. limiting EU migrants into the UK).
I’ve spent the last month interning in London, the largest city and central hub of the UK. Initially, I was looking forward to a summer away from the political drama of the upcoming U.S. presidential election. Instead, I got a front row seat to history during the vote to terminate this 43 year alliance. As an American, I have a “fly on the wall” perspective of how Great Britain’s capital has reacted to the Brexit.
London is a melting pot of cultures. Approximately 37% of the population of London is foreign-born, a number that’s recently doubled. Permanent residents of London can’t vote on legislation they’re directly influenced by.
If you haven’t heard, the UK did, in fact, vote “out” of the EU. That Friday, everyone waited with bated breath for the result of the vote to be announced. Leaving came as a huge surprise to me and lots of people in the UK. The big question now is what to do next. No one really has an exact game plan for this uncharted territory, all that’s certain is there’s no going back….just ask the EU!
A huge factor in any public or political maneuver is the media. I’ve observed firsthand how biased their influence can be. I read the London Evening Standard on the tube ride home from my internship and it’s always filled with Brexit articles. Polls are taken constantly and influential Londoners are interviewed about their opinions. A small piece of news can be spun with supposed betrayal and confusion that spans the whole front cover of the paper. I was surprised about the vote mainly because the papers shouted that “remain” was certain. I have learned now to not always to listen to the loudest voice.
Unlike the U.S., there’s no electoral college in the UK, so individual votes hold more weight. The “leave” vote barely won with 51.9%. Some claim the rainy weather on voting day stopped many people from coming out to vote, especially the baby boomer generation who mainly supported staying with the EU. Others have said such a huge decision shouldn’t rest so much on the shoulders of the people because they’re not as educated on the facts…but I guess that’s democracy!
From what I know, the majority of London voted “in” while the outlying areas of Great Britain voted “leave.” This was because many wanted more jobs created through stricter immigration policies. In Scotland, only around 9% voted to leave, so now their prime minister wants to stay in the EU even if it means leaving the UK.
That bring me to my next observation: the Brexit has created division not only externally with the EU, but internally among UK citizens. There are fights in Parliament, stock markets are shifting because the value of the pound has dropped, and the Prime Minister immediately stepped down after the vote, leaving Great Britain with no immediate leader. The leading voice of the Brexit, Boris Johnson, dropped out of the new PM election because his running mate decided to run against him rather then ally with him as expected. (I’ve read stories that Farage pushed Brexit for personal political gain and now regrets his efforts, but take that story with a grain of salt). There have been several scheduled rallies over the Brexit vote, but all but a few have been canceled because security can not mobilize in time to protect against potential mob violence. It’s obvious that London wants to be heard.
The Brexit seems to have had a worldwide domino effect. Other countries such as Germany and the Netherlands have suggested their own independence. Other countries may be jumping on the bandwagon now, but it will most likely be a lonely road for the UK as they implement the change over the next two years.
Many of the Londoners I’ve talked to say they aren’t happy with the Brexit outcome. Several foreign people I know are already making plans to leave London. This summer I’m interning at an international English school, so my colleagues are directly affected. The school staff is apprehensive about how this will affect the number of students, as well as the jobs of international employees. Immigration will be a big question post-Brexit. There’s fear the government will make it much harder for those coming to work in the UK on a visa and for current immigrants to stay.
I’m glad to be living in London during this politically exciting time. I’ve seen how there’s strengths and weaknesses in every government. However everything plays out (I’m sure lots of waiting and red tape) I hope that as reality sets in, the UK will become united as they look towards the future together.
The world awaits…discover it.