An External Perspective: A Yankee's Recollection of Brexit
Updated: Aug 19, 2019
Like most, I find myself focused on domestic politics more than international politics. As a student of International Relations however, I continue to make an effort to delve deep into the politics of Latin American countries and East Asian countries because my particular studies predominantly adhere to those two regions. Until interning with My Life My Say, a youth led non-profit organisation based in London, my general interests towards “Western” Democracies within the European Union was minimal. I figured that their issues were inherently homogenous with ours, in the sense that our cultures are very similar and so, our problems with our democracies are indistinguishable. On June 23rd 2016 however, the UK decided to hold a referendum on whether or not they should stay in the European Union. To my dismay, the leave vote prevailed and as a result, a spiral of incoherent negotiations ensued between the EU and the UK government. After the initial vote, I didn’t pay much attention to the negotiations or some of the potential problems that the UK would face in the upcoming months. I do remember watching a couple of John Oliver specials about campaign promises made by leave-campaigners. The most prevalent one was the plastering of buses with the slogan of “We send the EU 350 million pounds a week. Let’s fund our NHS instead, vote leave.” After the vote, this appeared to be a weightless promise. Other than that, I tried my best to understand why the UK would choose to leave an economic union. I can understand a country’s need to have some sort of autonomy over its economic policy. What I don’t understand is the inability to see the value of having a very large economic union as a bargaining chip when discussing future economic affairs. I immediately thought that they’d be shooting themselves in the foot on this because it’d make them more susceptible to be taken advantage of by larger economic competitors like the US or China. Realising that it’s not my place to question a country’s pursuit of autonomy in its self-interest, I decided to look into some of the more contemporary issues that would affect not only UK citizens, but also EU citizens living in the UK. Working with My Life My Say, I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with young EU citizens and UK citizens and discuss some of their trepidations regarding the negotiations or Brexit as a whole. The overwhelming consensus was that there is this idea of uncertainty that looms over all their heads. Their statuses’ are left in limbo as they wait for negotiations to conclude. This inevitably creates anxiety amongst them, as they don’t know if they will be asked to leave, whether they will maintain the same amount of rights they had in the past, or if things will remain the same. This turbulence must constantly echoes in their minds and I don’t know how they continue living their lives in the UK with this level of uncertainty. I recall someone who has lived in the UK for 18 years but she was from Sweden and she feared she might have to return to Sweden, even though, for all intents and purposes, was British. Maybe my American is sticking out, but she spoke with a British accent. She had the mannerisms that I’ve since become accustomed to and yet she was Swedish by law. Now this is just one story, but I can imagine that this anecdote is anything but atypical for people who have lived in the UK for the majority of their lives. The idea that these people have the potential chance of losing rights that they had in the past that were agreed upon, is utterly troubling. Especially since they had no forum to voice their opinions before triggering article 50. I’m torn on Brexit because I respect a nation’s right to pursue its own self-interest. It’d be hypocritical to say otherwise as an American. However, after hearing how fuzzy the negotiations have been and how little information people are being given, it makes me question the UK’s ability to preserve current rights but also break away from the European Union. This internship with MLMS has really given me an insight into what young people think about Brexit and front-line experience of a charity attempting to navigate the political space in post-Brexit Britain. I will be interested to see what the future holds.