By Sophie Taylor
On Thursday 23rd June 2016, I, who only turned 18 in January, headed down to the polling station in order to vote to remain in the European Union. It’s therefore not surprising I was devastated to wake up on Friday morning to the news that the so-called ‘Brexit’ camp had won and I faced the prospect of a future outside of the European Union.
Let’s start at the beginning. The European Union (EU) didn’t start out as the organisation we see today. The very first step was in 1952 when the European Coal and Steel Community was established. In 1957, this developed into the European Economic Community (EEC) between Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany. Over the next 20 years, an increasing number of countries joined the EEC, until finally in 1992 the Maastricht Treaty was signed, formally bringing into being the Union we know today. The EU has been slowly developing, expanding, changing its powers, but the basic foundations have always remained the same.
The EU has provided the UK with worker’s rights (the EU Working Time Directive, for example, which maximised the number of hours people are legally obliged to work, reducing labour force exploitation dramatically), they’ve protected the environment through fishing laws, created product standards across Europe, began tightening internet security (every time we enter a webpage that has cookies, we get told about it – generally no one cares but it’s another step of internet safety), provided us with a flow of young, active workers to fill a range of industries suffering from skills shortages – the list of good things the EU has done for Britain is almost endless.
So how did we, the Brits, get to a referendum?
Essentially, in the general election of 2015, which I was sadly unable to vote in being 3 months too young at the time, the Conservative leader David Cameron panicked, believing a number of Tory MP’s and a large percentage of the Tory vote were going to abandon the Tories and vote UKIP (the UK Independence Party) who are a right-wing group, previously under the leadership of Nigel Fararge who had, in their party manifesto, promised on top of all else, an in-out EU referendum. David Cameron realised his only way to secure votes was to promise one too. Problem: he NEVER expected to win the election with the landslide he did – the plan in the Conservative Party was to have to enter a coalition (again) with the Liberal Democrats and then blame the LibDems when the referendum never went ahead. David Cameron forced himself into a corner, and Britain was given the choice.
The stats suggest it was the older generation, the over 65s who mainly voted to leave, and it was for a future they won’t have to live through.
Fast-forward through a VERY long and VERY boring campaign, full of fear-mongering, blatant lying and a conspiracy theory involving MI5 and the erasing of pencil votes, and Britain, to everyone’s surprise (no literally, even the Brexiters had lost hope), voted to leave the European Union. This vote terrified me beyond belief. On Friday I was fuming. The stats suggest it was the older generation, the over 65s who mainly voted to leave, and it was for a future they won’t have to live through. But there’s not really any use pointing a finger of blame now, instead I’ll focus on explaining why I am so worried by this result.
The biggest problem I found with the leave campaign was that of the racism and xenophobia it created. I’m not saying that all leave voters were racist, not by far, but many of the leave leaders were very loudly, and very obviously racist.
The main focus of the leave campaign was on ending immigration, on ending the free movement of people around the EU out of fears the migrants were ‘taking our jobs’ and were ‘violent rapists’ (think of some of the things Donald Trump has said about the Mexicans, that’s the sort of thing key Brexiters started spewing during their campaign). They were speaking rubbish. As aforementioned, without the free movement of labour numerous British businesses and industries would have collapsed due to a lack of suitable, willing British workers. No British inner-city young person would dream of getting a job on a farm, they seem almost allergic to manual labour, so farmers in places like Kent relied on the free flow of workers from abroad to fill their shortages. Leave voters complained so many builders were plumbers but ask them if they would on purposely choose an English builder even if it was £3000 more expensive and they said no.
I believed I lived in a forward thinking, liberal society; but the extreme right-wing is gaining more and more dominance, and I fear liberalism and the sense of a multicultural Britain will very quickly cease to be because of this referendum result.
In the last two days alone, reports have been appearing with frightening frequency of increased racist abused in streets across the country and all over social media against the migrant population of the UK. And the stupid, ridiculous thing is that they’re not even just targeting European migrants. Reports have also involved incidences against Muslims too (even against Muslims who were born in the UK and whose heritage lay beyond the EU), all triggered by the ‘out’ vote. The EU referendum has normalised racism in the UK, and appears to have made it acceptable to shout such abuse at people in the streets. I believed I lived in a forward thinking, liberal society; but the extreme right-wing is gaining more and more dominance, and I fear liberalism and the sense of a multicultural Britain will very quickly cease to be because of this referendum result.
My next big fear is much more personal. I’m a dreamer, someone who has always wanted to get out and explore the world. I even considered Inter-Railing in Europe this summer but found the ticket too expensive, so postponed this dream. Because of this result, I fear my desire for travel may not be much harder to meet.
The benefits of being an island nation meant partially opting out of the Schengen Agreement much easier. We currently have border controls at Calais and passports are all checked on the way into the UK. But if I head across to mainland Europe I can travel anywhere I like without having my passport checked at every border. In fact, most of the time you don’t notice you’ve crossed a border until you notice the language on the road signs has changed or if it’s conveniently announced by whatever train or bus you’re on. Travel in Europe for Europeans is so straightforward. I can live, work, study in any of the 27 countries in the EU with no visa requirements and free healthcare – it’s fantastic!
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On top of the general free movement of people, there’s also a special scheme for university students known as ERASMUS. The ERASMUS programme links universities across Europe and means that students can spend a semester or a year abroad at any university in Europe and get paid around £300 a month to do so.
I’m worried that this out vote will mean that these freedoms and these schemes will be taken out from under me, just when I’m reaching the point in my life where I can take the most advantage of them.
I’m worried that this out vote will mean that these freedoms and these schemes will be taken out from under me, just when I’m reaching the point in my life where I can take the most advantage of them. I think of all the things I might have done, the places I might have seen, the people I might have met if I could have travelled in Europe. The leave vote means it could all be gone.
The breakup of the United Kingdom
This might seem dramatic, but the leave vote has actually seriously threatened the UK as an entity. As much as Donald Trump might believe otherwise, Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. Now the leader of the Scottish Parliament, Nicola Sturgeon, has stated they will now begin proceedings for a second independence referendum and begin their own talks with the EU because they feel their country is being pulled on a course they do not want to be pulled. I want to go to university in Scotland, and no one has any idea what such an independence vote could do.
But it’s not only the Scots who are threatening to pull away: there are also talks that the leave vote undermines the Good Friday Agreement, and so we might also be seeing an independence vote and a vote for reunification in Ireland. As much as I celebrate the idea of a unified Ireland following over 150 years of instability and violence which quite literally tore the country apart, I don’t celebrate the idea of the breakdown of my home. It’s almost comical: one the biggest parts of the Brexit campaign focused on the fact the UK is big enough and strong enough to stand independently, to work alongside but not as part of the EU. But without Northern Ireland and without Scotland, I personally see this argument and our country’s position as a whole becoming increasingly weaker.
It came as no surprise that the morning of the referendum result the whole economy seemed to collapse. The pound fell 11% against the dollar in under 2 hours, the Financial Times ran a headline that read “The Pound Falls Against, Well, Everything”, the FTSE collapsed, the stock markets in Italy and France plummeted. In fact, it is estimated that the economy fell so far, that overnight Britain lost more money than we would have sent to the EU in 40 years. Investment has already fallen, companies like Nissan and JPMorgan are threatening to leave the UK and find new bases in Europe, Japan has stopped trading with us – it’s a bleak picture.
The Big “But”
But despite all of this, I am slowly beginning to hope. Firstly, a conspiracy (and a damn good one this time) presented by the Guardian Newspaper suggests that a Brexit may never happen. Article 50 (the official clause of the Lisbon Treaty which declares that a country is leaving the EU) has yet to be activated. Our political world is in turmoil – we have no Prime Minister; the leaders of the Brexit campaign appeared to have vanished overnight; the Chancellor the Exchequer hasn’t been seen since Wednesday; the Labour Party (the main opposition party to our current government) is in disarray as Hilary Benn, a leading Labour MP, has been sacked by the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, resulting in the resignation of currently 7 other Labour MPs; even UKIP have fallen very silent in the wake of the victory. No one knows what is going on or what is happening. The EU has called for talks to begin immediately, but how is that possible when we don’t have a Prime Minister? There’s also the possibility of a veto from the House of Lords if the legislation ever makes it through the Commons; it’s unlikely, but stranger things have happened.
The uncertainty of this vote could mean disaster, but it could mean prosperity, it could mean nothing.
I am gutted that my country allowed itself to be manipulated by fear, hatred and lies. I’m terrified of what the future now holds socially, politically and economically for the whole world, not just our little country. I’m praying the far-right don’t use the current political turmoil to their advantage and turn my home into a new Nazi-like state. But I am hopeful. I believe someone may emerge from the rubble ready to lead the UK into a brighter future. Someone who can negotiate properly with the EU and sort out this mess before it’s too late. I know hope seems naïve, but it’s all we’ve got left.
Sophie Taylor is a student from London, hoping to major in Modern History at the University of St. Andrews.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer, The Contemporary takes no position on matters of policy or opinion.