I don’t often talk about politics online, so the fact it’s the theme of this month’s blog is testament to how shocked and angry I am.
Having spent the duration of the referendum campaign in London, I was (naively) optimistic about the outcome. It was only as first year ended and friends started to drift home, realising one by one that their neighbours and former schoolmates held different views to those in the capital, that I saw the light at the end of the tunnel begin to flicker.
This last academic year, 29 per cent of students at UCL were from the European Union (excluding the UK). It is a ‘global university’ in the truest sense. The wonderfully diverse and intelligent people I have met there show how successful inclusivity can be. So many of my friends now face uncertain futures as the country which once offered them such hope has instead heralded instability and exclusivity.
This blog is a personal response to the Brexit result. My only reassurance is the news that Manchester and London – the two cities in which I choose to live my life – voted in such a way that I can still feel a part of them.
On Thursday June 23, 2016, 51.9 per cent of Britain voted to leave the European Union. Remember the date, because it has already made history.
The value of the pound has dropped significantly (at one point reaching a 31-year-low) and the result has triggered waves of Euroscepticism across the continent. It may be fair to say that the UK has signed the European community’s death warrant, a community painstakingly built over the past 43 years, but in truth I don’t know. And that’s why I’m so shocked: more than half of the population eligible to vote came to the conclusion yesterday that to choose ‘leave’ – to take a leap into the dark – was a logical decision. How can that many people in a country claiming to be educated and progressive still put an ‘x’ in a box that signalled only uncertainty and insecurity?
I woke up this morning to messages from friends whose plans for the future have been shattered overnight. Plans to study abroad, either for a whole degree or a year. Plans to go travelling this summer, which may now be unaffordable because of the effect of Brexit on exchange rates. Plans to be part of a united and inclusive European society in which bigotry and xenophobia have no place.
The reasons for remaining in the European Union were many; they’ve been shared so much over the last few weeks that to repeat them here almost seems futile. If scores of world leaders and masses of companies, unions and NGOs in favour cannot persuade you, then I doubt I can.
By contrast, the reasons to leave were founded on warped figures and mis-communicated claims. The supporters were the likes of Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. Neither campaign was particularly well run, but at least ‘remain’ had evidence and stability on its side.
The EU has many faults, that much is undeniable, but, by voting ‘leave’, Britain has closed the door on any hope of reconciliation or amendment. Once David Cameron triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty (assuming he chooses to do so before he steps down as Prime Minister), Britain will not be able to rejoin without the consent of all 27 remaining member states. This is an irrevocable decision and many of those who voted in favour of it will not be around to see the consequences. That is, perhaps, my main grievance with this referendum; the people who voted are not necessarily representative of the people the decision will affect. Bob Geldof had the right idea allowing his children to decide how he voted, as did my brother’s school teacher who asked his class. Had the voting age been lowered to 16 and – dare I suggest it – capped at 60, remain would almost certainly have emerged victorious.
Ultimately, this referendum became representative of the (largely, though not entirely) generational divides in Britain. It became a vote between those clinging on to traditional imperial views of independence and those who believe in a global community valuing free movement, trade and progress. To the Daily Mail voters whose arguments were based on fears over immigration, words are inadequate to express how selfish you have been. Your outdated views have jeopardised the steps we had made towards European unity – steps towards an inclusive (and essentially better) future. Nigel Farage may have deemed the victorious camp ‘decent’ people but, in my eyes at least, there is nothing ‘decent’ about this decision.
The EU has secured the rights of women, disabled people and workers, to name but a few. We are fundamentally stronger IN. I used to be proud to be British. Today I’m not so sure.
Image by Chris Payne