The Brexit Files – Part 2

Or: Was Brexit a fault of the younger generation?

20170325_130012

Ever since the Brexit referendum, there have been accusations from the Millennials that the older generations voted Brexit and therefore have ruined their future. As I explained in my last post on the matter, nostalgia was one of the main reasons why so many voted in favour of Leave, but is the outcome really down to them?

In February this year, the BBC has published a statistical analysis of the Brexit referendum demographics and one of their key findings is that older people were more likely to vote Leave. However, the findings clearly indicate that education was a much bigger influence on people’s voting decision than any other demographic aspect. Of course, it’s easy and comfortable to blame the older generations for voting the way they did when they don’t have to live with the consequences for as long as their children and grandchildren.

However, Sky News published their analysis too and it reveals something many might have already suspected: There was a rather poor polling when it comes to younger voters. Only 36% of young adults between 18 and 24 years went to the polls – the lowest turnout out of all age groups. In comparison, 58% of all 25 to 34 year olds voted and 72% of the 35 to 44 made their cross. In short: only every third adolescent used their voice to express their political opinion.

So, is their anger over the outcome of the referendum justified?

Yes. Well, at least those who went to the polls and tried to shape the future of their country according to their own world view have every right to be angry. But it’s not the older generations they should blame, it’s their fellow peers who decided to remain silent that are responsible for Brexit. The date of the referendum, June 23, was in the middle of the semester and many students complained that they weren’t able to vote because they didn’t register for the city where they go to university.

In Britain, you can’t just head to the polls and vote as you like – you have to register first for the town, village, or community you live in. The process of a registration takes approximately five minutes and occurs on the internet at the official website of the British government. All you need for the procedure is your British passport and your National Insurance number. The deadline for the registration for the EU referendum was early June. David Cameron, the former PM of the UK, announced in February when the referendum would be held – more than enough time to look up all the information one would need in order to go to the polls.

Whether you are busy with university work or not, whether you’re in town or at home with your parents – five minutes of online registration won’t do you any harm; quite the opposite, in fact. The question why young people still failed to vote remains unanswered even now. But of one fact we can be certain: Those who made use of their voices cannot be blamed by those who don’t like their opinion, however debatable it may be. Those who wanted to punish the government, failed to register, or were simply too lazy – those are the ones who are to blame.

In TV interviews, some tried to defend their inactivity with how they never would have suspected such an outcome. Well, that’s the funny thing about elections – you suddenly realise how many people out there are actually thinking differently from yourself. Being presumptuous when it comes to your own future is a luxury that nobody should have the right to claim for themselves.

However, what’s past is past and there’s a new general election coming up on June 8. The deadline for your online registration is May 22 and if you’re unhappy with the Brexit referendum outcome, I suggest you use your voice as long as you still can.

Advertisements

The Brexit Files – Part 1

Rule, Britannia or: Why people voted for Brexit

On Wednesday, article 50 was officially triggered by British PM Theresa May.  For the next two years, the UK and the EU are going to negotiate the consequences of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. Back in June 2016, the lack of understanding how anyone would even consider leaving the EU was at its peak in many other European countries but is it really that incomprehensible?

If one desires to foresee the future, one has to understand the past and I am not going to break this rule. And as every great disaster in history, the Brexit referendum is a result of many factors playing into one.

Over the last couple of years, the German media has focused on the UK as a country of narrow-minded people who are disloyal to their European neighbours, self-centred and egoistic in their politics, and blind when it comes to the refugee crisis. Be that as it may, I have spent much time studying this country’s history and culture and I think we’re making it very easy for ourselves to judge them on their position without taking the British history into account.

IMG_2725.JPG

China Town in Soho is only one of many boroughs in London that has been built by immigrants.

Immigration

Immigration has always been a major issue in Great Britain. Looking back, the British Empire went down in history as a global superpower, claiming more than 1/5 of the world its territory at its peak. A country that owns most of the world cannot exist in isolation.

After World War II, Britain was in desperate need of workers in order to rebuild the country, and since they were lacking of young, fit men they brought in workers from the Commonwealth countries. In 1948, the British Nationality Act gave every subject in the Commonwealth the status and rights of a British citizen, which made it easier for people from the colonies to set sails for their mother country. The Empire Windrush, a passanger liner on voyage from Jamaica to the UK, served as a namesake to the first big wave of immigrants arriving in Great Britain. To ensure that foreigners would come to the country’s help, the British government established a campaign, claiming that better education, higher living standards, and better job opportunities would await those who decided to leave the colonies behind.

Naturally, the migrants arrived at Britain’s ports with the expectation that their new and better lives were awaiting them. Little did they know that the British had no intention of allowing them to stay. If they weren’t sent back to the colonies after their service, they fell victim to a society of classes and discrimination.

Sadly, there has been only slow progress over the last decades. Today, immigration is still a major concern of many Brexit voters, in urban areas less so than in the countryside. The fact that Britain never managed to fully integrate foreigners despite its long history of immigration casts long shadows over the glorious Empire and it raises the question whether this inability is a result of unwillingness or incapability.

IMG_2554

On the market, property in central London is currently at an average price of £1,5 million.

The housing crisis

After the Credit Crunch in 2007, life in London has become extremely expensive, attracting millionaires and billionaires from all over the world – and chasing working people away.

In 2015, it was unaffordable for a family with an average annual income to buy or rent a flat or house in London, resulting in foreign investors ‘buying up’ the majority of town houses in the city centre. Most of them are of Arabic or Russian origin and tend to buy property without ever using it, resulting in thousands of empty houses and flats while others are struggling to find a home closer to work. Inequality is, most of the time, a reason why people tend to favour populism over liberal political ideals. While there is no direct connection between inequality and racism, it does tend to play into the hands of the likes of Nigel Farage and the Ukip party.

Adding to the strained situation, many international banks have settled down in the financial metropolis that London has turned into. Due to this gentrification, property prices skyrocketed in only a couple of years. In the event of Brexit, many people predicted that these banks would move to other financial cities such as Frankfurt or Paris and thus leading to a lowering of house prices.

2017-04-01 00_51_55-Dokument1 - Microsoft Word

The Welfare State

Compared to Germany, Britain’s welfare state is almost non-existing. In fact, it has never been popular in politics since no government ever accomplished a successful attempt to create a welfare state. In 1942 during World War II, William Beveridge identified the five “Giant Evils” in British society that had to be tackled: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease. This report, also known as the Beveridge Report, proposed a reformed system with better National Insurance and a better social welfare. Despite its high popularity with the public, the only long-term solution resulting from Beveridge’s report was the founding of the National Health Service (NHS).

Margaret Thatcher, one of Britain’s most controversial political figures, and her neo-liberal politics have ignored the needs of the poor and strengthened the class system in the 1980s – an impact Britain still struggles with today. While health care is provided for free (there hasn’t even been a need for health insurance until Brexit), many social contributions aren’t available that are being taken for granted in Germany. In the end, it always comes down to social inequality, and the lack of a Welfare State – or even a poor version thereof –  can have major influence on the rise of populism.

Too expensive or unfair for those who work hard in order to afford a better lifestyle – the arguments have always been the same debate after debate. The geographical regions that backed Brexit the most have been (in most cases) the ones that are the most dependent on EU support in terms of economic support. If the UK had faced its inequality problems years before, maybe Brexit would have never happened.

IMG_2817

The Empire and the Commonwealth Nations

What surprises me the most about the outcome of the referendum is the fact that many immigrants voted in favour of “leave”. Yes, it does sound incomprehensible, but it needs a change of perspective to understand the thought process behind this twisted way of thinking.

As I explained before, the Empire Windrush brought immigrants from the Caribbean to the UK so they would serve as temporary workers before being sent back to the colonies they originally came from. In said colonies, the youth was educated by British standards and they were given the impression that with the education they received, they’d be able to make a new life for themselves in Great Britain. But since their dreams never came true – again, this applies to the majority and not all of the cases – they thought European citizens had a geographical advantage. By voting “Leave” in the referendum, many immigrants from the Commonwealth Nations expect to now have an advantage on the job market due to their still existing connection to the UK.

However, people tend to forget about the past far too easily. If the British had any interest in letting these immigrants stay in the UK in the post WWII era, they would have done so without giving it a second thought. The fact that this hasn’t happened back then is down to a major education difference between Commonwealth colonies and Europe and the unwillingness to accept foreign nationalities as part of the British culture. Just because the UK is no longer a member of the European Union won’t change anything about the partly racist, partly narrow-minded way of thinking.

▬▬▬

In the end, there are many reasons why people voted in favour of Brexit and I have just scratched the surface with my little analysis. Lies, empty promises, and hatred played a significant role as well, of course, but this part of the referendum campaign has been explored well enough by the mass media. And some voices shouldn’t be given a louder voice than they deserve.

Happy frosty Birthday, EU!

“We hope to see a Europe where men of every country will think of being a European as of belonging to their native land, and… wherever they go in this wide domain… will truly feel. ‘Here I am at home’.”

– Winston Churchill

Yesterday marked the 60th anniversary of the European Union and while politicians were celebrating themselves and the idea of unity in Rome, people were marching in the streets of London. And even though they were marching for Europe, there was an atmosphere of change in the air, a desire for a different EU than the one that currently exists. Moreover, iIt was a protest march not only against Brexit, but also against the British government.

wp-image-1803614232jpg.jpeg

11 a.m. on a beautiful and sunny Saturday morning. Tens of thousands of people have gathered at Speaker’s Corner at Hyde Park, EU flags fluttering in the wind above their heads. Brexit is a dog’s breakfast, I want mine continental says the sign of an elderly lady with EU stars on her shirt and a look of determination on her face. We are the 48%, says another sign, and All I want for Christmas is EU. London is one of the most diverse cities in the world, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that people here are particularily furious about the outcome of the Brexit referendum. And even though they are shouting at the top of their lungs, the message they are trying to send still goes unheard – not only by the Westminster government, but also by the media.

John Riley tells me, that he and his wife came all the way from the countryside to not only protest against Brexit, but also to show solidarity with EU citizens living in the UK. “We are very happy to have them here, very happy indeed, and we need them.” He talks very passionately about the EU and how much it has achieved, also for the UK, and that Britain is making a great mistake in leaving the union. His opinion is the one that is most often reflected on the news as the aim of the protests: revoke the referendum, revoke Brexit.

However, that is not the only reason why people have come together to show the world how much the European Union and being a European means to them. Sabine Voigt, originally from Germany, lives in Great Britain for more than 20 years and she has joined the masses to protest against the way the British government has treated EU citizens living in the UK. “We don’t want to be treated like bargaining chips,” she says and her fellow German friends nod in agreement.

After talking to quite a lot of EU immigrants from mainly Germany and Poland, it quickly transpires that their main goal is not holding a second referendum or stopping Brexit altogether, although they’d definitely prefer staying in the EU. No, the main point they are trying to make is that Theresa May has to come clean on the consequences of Britain leaving the EU for citizens of a nationality that isn’t British. For the entirety of the Brexit campaign, nobody ever referred to what will happen to immigrants and migrants should Britain decide to vote “leave”. And now that article 50 is triggered on Wednesday, there’s still no plan – at least, it’s not known to the public.

20170325_124945

A Polish family struggles with the uncertainty particularily since their children are both born in the UK but don’t have British citizenship. Being born in Great Britain doesn’t make you British by birth – something that differs from e.g. Germany and is hardly ever explained in the media. A few weeks back, a two year old child was denied permanent residency because they didn’t fulfill the minimum UK residency of five years. So what will become of these children? Would May’s government go as far as to rip families apart just to appeal to a small number of people who have been falling for the lies of the “leave”-campaign? And when you listen to the stories of these people that are marching for a united Europe, the stories they are happy to share because they need to be told in order to understand the far-reaching effects of Brexit – you start to see the complexity of this ongoing conflict in the UK and the questions that are now surfacing. What makes someone British if not being born on British soil? What does nationality and citizenship mean?

The EU, as it currently exists, has a lot of work to do if it wants to exist for another 60 years. And since its leaders are so clueless about where to begin, maybe they should start by listening to what the people on the streets have to say. In the end, the decisions of few determine the destiny of many and unity is certainly a term on which all parties agree. If there were clearer indications about what being a European means, there were three million EU citizens less who have to worry about their future.

While marching past Trafalgar Square, choirs of the European anthem Ode to Joy echoed through the streets of Westminster. It’s a beautiful sight to see so many people on the very streets that were closed off only a few days ago due to an attack on the same unity and freedom these people are now raising their voices for. This is not about the stupid decision of few, but the demand for rights of many. And I, for my part, have never felt more European in my life, more welcome, and more at home than on that day at Parliament Square.

20170325_125552