By Rachel Lankester.
Thoughts on Brexit. I’m really sorry kids!
“But I don’t want to leave the European Union,” said seven year old Izzy as she left class for our reading session with the saddest face she could muster. They’d all been watching Newsround. Izzy is white British. I wondered how many of her north London classmates were there thanks to the UK’s EU membership? Or our historical acceptance of refugees? And how many of their parents are now wondering if they’ll have to up sticks and take their families back to where they came from? We all know Brexit was a lot about immigrants.
Until now those European parents, like myself, had the right to live and work in 27 other countries without restriction. Yes, not just THEM without restriction but US too. Our families; our children, our parents, our friends. I never exercised that right. I was too busy living in China and the US, but it was great knowing I’d be able to when (or if) earning the daily bread became less of a daily necessity.
My son and step children will no longer have that automatic, unrestricted right to live, study and work anywhere across Europe. Their choices have been curtailed by older voters who won’t live long enough to be so impacted by this momentous Brexit decision. If this referendum had been biased in favour of those it would most affect, the young, we’d have seen a very different result. Most young people wanted to stay in the EU.
Some 73% of those aged 18-24 voted to remain, while 63% of those aged over 65 voted to leave. In fact, over the age of 45 more than 56% voted to leave. People who themselves enjoyed many years of unrestricted travel and advantageous trade have stopped younger people from benefiting from the same. Sounds a bit like the old university fees chestnut to me. What about pension provisions and the state retirement age too…
And what of our European colleagues and service providers? My husband’s small business is run day to day by a Spaniard who’s given us eight years of exemplary loyal service, not to mention regular payments to HMRC. Will he need a work visa now? And if he fails to get that, because even with eight years experience and being multilingual, some bureaucrat decides a Brit could do the same job, then what? We lose one of our most valuable assets. Our British small business slips back eight years. Thanks Brexit.
What of our wonderful Polish builder who has worked his butt off for us (and the rest of the street) for the last five years or so? He’s built his business and his life here. His children were born here, he’s bought a house, paid tax, given amazing service too. What is he to do? And for the record, when he quotes on a job, he doesn’t suck his teeth and say ooh, well you need that, and this and then there’s that. No, he says, I don’t think you really need that. So the quote goes down instead of up.
And what about London, which voted overwhelmingly to remain? Yes, us Londoners (and by the way I’m originally a Brummie) may be completely out of touch with the rest of the country. But which city has far more immigrants per head of population than any other in the UK? London. In 2014, London had 36.9% of the foreign born population, a total of 3 million. The Southeast had 13.3% and the next biggest proportion was the East of England with 8.2%. The West Midlands had only 7.6% of the total UK foreign born population. What did Londoners vote again? With 3 million foreign born inhabitants. To remain.
Where do those foreign born people come from? It turns out, of the top 10 nationalities for foreign born people living in the UK in 2013, only four are in the EU and one of those is Ireland. (Let’s send them straight back!) India takes the top spot with 9.2% of the migrant sender countries with Poland at 9.1%, Pakistan at 6%, Ireland at 4.4% and Germany at 3.6%. After that we have South Africa (2.5%), Nigeria (2.4%), Bangladesh (2.4%), Romania (2.2%) and the US (2%). Yes of course the figures have changed since 2013 and we now have the Syrian crisis too, but is it really different enough for Brexit? I’m quoting the latest stats from Oxford University after all.
But then of course they’re experts and we don’t want to hear from experts any more do we? We are now a society, the majority of whom would rather listen to the voice of Nigel Farage of UKIP than any number of experts on what this decision might mean for us. What about the man in the motorway service station heard to say he’d voted leave, but now look at the pound! His holiday was going to cost at least 10% more than he thought it would! Not to mention the current value of his pension or the impact on mortgage interest rates. Well what do you know! Should’ve listened to those experts.
The Evening Standard reports that many leavers don’t want to leave any more. It no longer seems such a good idea now they see what it actually means. If they voted again tomorrow, they’d vote differently. Too late sucker!
Many leavers wanted to demonstrate their frustration with the economic and political elites of our country. They’d understandably had enough of rigid austerity and what they perceived as south-centric policies. (But we gave the Conservatives a majority, remember!) Leavers wanted to give the establishment a bloody nose. Show them for once their vote counted. And count it certainly did. Unfortunately all it means is we swap one (old Etonian) establishment for another. This time we don’t even change party. Result!
We’ve had 43 years of first the EEC and then the EU. I was 7 when we signed up. I’m 50 this week and this is the worst birthday present I could ever have imagined. I want Great Britain not Little England (without Scotland and Northern Ireland). I want inclusion not exclusion. I’m in the business of building communities not putting up walls. In the words of Laurie Penny writing in the New Statesman, I want my county back, the country of Jo Cox not Nigel Farage. A place where we are united and know we have more in common than that which divides us. Somehow we need to find a way back to that. In the meantime, I’m really sorry.