Thursday June 23rd 2016. On this day a small majority of British citizens voted in an advisory referendum to leave the European Union. This does not mean that it will absolutely happen but currently it is the will of the people. While the vote had an impressive estimated ~70% turnout, the numbers were skewed towards older, rural, and conservative. Northern Ireland, Scotland, and London all voted -the latter two overwhelmingly- heavily remain. Since then it seems largely that the political structure in the UK has collapsed, the Prime Minister (PM)-who called the referendum to win an election- has essentially absolved himself of culpability and responsibility, saying that it would be “the next government,” that held responsibility of seeing any transition through. Other proponents, fools like Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage, have also skirted any responsibility of trying to guide the movement beyond the vote. The Labour party, is in turmoil seemingly running around like proverbial chicken with no head. Since the referendum there has been a no confidence vote for their leader Jeremy Corbyn, and relatively large numbers of its members have resigned posts either in protest of the vote, the leader, or Brexit.
My interest in the events of the UK leaving the EU comes from my time living in County Surrey, in southern England. My wife, our daughter, and I moved to Egham, County Surrey so that my wife could attend Royal Holloway University. We arrived in late 2008, at the beginning of the global recession. Europe and the UK were hard struck, and austerity measures were quickly enforced. The recession and austerity led to sweeping out the long running Labour Party -then led by Gordon Brown- and installment of Conservatives under David Cameron in 2010. We loved living in the UK -the people, the food, the culture- and really valued the mentality of “we’re all in it,” and moving forward. I will always recall that one of the first blurb’s that I heard was that of Gordon Brown calling for more paternity leave and more vacation time at work. I remember it I think because I could never imagine a US president so openly calling for such a thing. Even when people didn’t like something -say “environmentalism” that says plastic bags should be used sparingly- they would grudgingly accept it with “oh well, save the planet and all.” It never seemed to me like the adversarial mentality in the US where if you did not love something then BY GOODNESS you weren’t going to placate others. This is not to say that every single person was of that mind but it seemed in general to be. We liked the idea of free movement and softening borders, of unity. We liked the idea of a government that at the very least seemed to pay lip service of working for citizens rather than bowing to the whim of corporations. We liked that so many worked to live rather than lived to work, the culture was just so different to the win at all coast mentality we were used to.
We were lucky despite the recession and austerity around us, my wife was receiving her degree and I held a steady if low wage job at Boots the Chemist. I know how much austerity, the recession, and other cutbacks were hurting the people of Britain and elsewhere. Despite this it seemed like we could still somewhat see that mythical and mythological stick-to-it-ness that Brits were supposedly renowned for, that stiff upper lip. We saw real effect of austerity on our working class friends, trouble finding work, lower availability of assistance, etc.
We did see a bit of the rising wave of nationalism while we were there. Once, a UKIP campaigner came to the apartment and after being informed that we were ineligible to vote stated “we’re fighting for our independence!” which was interesting in a lot of ways. He had no problem with me, or my family despite being foreigners. I do not envy the difficulties that this will lead to for my friends abroad and for the challenges it will necessarily place on those who are in the UK and not nationals. I can only hope that at some point, someone who is not a complete loon will help to steer the ship in a better direction as well as realize that it is increased investment not austerity that is what the British need. Britain has in my mind been a model for what I would love to see the US move towards, not perfect in any way but a definite improvement in the social-economic relationship between the people and its government.