Around the world, people are confused now because the UK actually went and voted to leave the EU. Well, parts of the UK did. Scotland voted overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the EU, as did London. And now no one knows what to do because no one really believed Leave would win enough to set up a plan for what to do if people actually voted for a Brexit.
Now, just as the ‘Remain’ camp predicted, a lot of negative effects are being seen. As the results of the vote started coming in, the value of the pound tanked. Hard. At it’s worst in the last 24 hours, it was down around 12%. The value of the pound fell to it’s lowest point in 30 years, and overnight the UK has lost it’s place as the world’s 5th largest economy to France.
As expected, Scotland voted to remain in the EU, but that wasn’t enough to offset the leave votes from the rest of the UK. Now, Scottish politicians want another independence referendum, not even 2 full years after the last one, in September 2014. This is understandable, given that a lot of the votes to remain in the UK came as a result of uncertainty about whether Scotland could still have a place in the EU if they left. If the rest of the UK wants to leave the EU, Scotland doesn’t want to be dragged along with it. Unfortunately for Londoners, they don’t necessarily have the same option (although a petition for London’s mayor to declare London independent from the UK has over 67 thousand signatures). And Spain is calling for a sort of joint custody agreement with the UK over Gibraltar, which is currently under British control but voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU and might be able to do so if it came back under Spanish control.
For someone like me, a citizen of a country that doesn’t have great trade and free movement agreements with other countries, it seems wild to me that so much of the UK was so willing to leave the EU. The gift of free movement and ability to go to school, work and live in a range of different countries makes life so much easier in a way that maybe can’t be fully appreciated by anyone who’s never had to fill out visa applications for everything from 2 week vacations to 2-year commitments to school. For many of my European friends, this has never been an issue and I’ve always considered them very lucky for that. But now, people in the UK are finding that the futures they planned involving international diplomacy or any kind of work in Europe will be that much harder to attain. Students from other European countries may be subject to much higher tuition rates at universities in England. Countless European workers in the UK and workers from the UK in the EU are now uncertain of whether they’ll be able to keep their jobs and the lives they’ve built.
Throughout all of this there is a theme of general uncertainty. The Leave campaign never laid out a clear plan for what they would achieve, and how, by leaving the EU. They relied, in large part, on xenophobic rhetoric and convinced the people of the UK that leaving the EU would allow them to ‘take back their borders’, with no indication of when exactly that will happen, what kind of border will go up between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and what to do about all the immigrants already in the country. And the question of creating a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, coupled with the fact that Northern Ireland actually voted to stay in the EU, has led for calls for a vote on the reunification of Ireland too, so it’s entirely unclear what the UK is going to look like, or if their even will be a ‘United Kingdom’ at all when all the dust settles.
It’s easy for someone like me to look at this result and be worried about the UK, but for a lot of British people, this result is welcomed as a chance to become ‘independent’ once more. One politician even referred to it as ‘breaking the chain of EU slavery’, which is incredibly insensitive coming from a white man from a country that enslaved and colonised millions of people over the course of history. In fact, all the scare-mongering rhetoric concerning immigrants to Britain seems ridiculous in light of its history of colonialism, but millions of people in the UK were convinced by politicians that leaving the EU was the only way to secure jobs for UK citizens, manage immigrations and take back economic control.
The problem is, the Leave campaign’s claims are already falling apart, not even 24 hours after polling ended. Nigel Farage has already publicly admitted he can’t guarantee that 350 million pounds a week will go into the NHS, as his party suggested while campaigning. Leave complained during the campaign period that Remain was lying to voters about the potential effects of leaving, but apparently the Leave campaign was lying too. And young people voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, but they were outvoted by older generations who won’t have to live with the effects for as long, or deal directly with the effects of this on their educations.
With all these negative consequences beginning to play out, it seems more than a little ironic that the man who called for the referendum to take place to begin with, David Cameron, was staunchly in favour of remaining in the EU. Now, he’s announced that he’s stepping down as Prime Minister, leading to even more uncertainty about who will be running the UK going forward. But since it appears that no one actually has an answer to any of these questions yet, we’ll just have to wait and see.