On Friday morning, Britain woke up with a political hangover of the worst kind. The vote to leave the European Union wasn’t a small misstep that could be corrected at the next election, but a rash and ill-informed decision that could cause damage for decades to come.
As the dust settles, the terrifying headlines and worrying rumours are coming thick and fast. Will Nando’s really quit the UK? Could the Channel Tunnel be bricked up? How high can the price of Freddos skyrocket?
Aside from the gallows humour that has surfaced in the wake of Britain’s colossal, self-inflicted wound, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that nobody had a real plan for the day after the referendum.
Following Prime Minister David Cameron’s resignation, the UK is left like a stricken ship, floating in the North Sea without a captain, while it faces up to the unprecedented challenge of negotiating divorce with the EU.
The promises made by the Leave camp – £350 million a week for the NHS and a halt on migration, etc. – have already been abandoned within days of the vote. The next days, week and months are going to be a turbulent and bloody political circus, with a leadership contest underway in the Conservative Party and Jeremy Corbyn’s position as Labour leader looking increasingly vulnerable to a party coup.
Like a jilted lover, the EU isn’t making things easy – determined to make Britain suffer as she packs up the last of her stuff, in hope of deterring other states from following suit.
So, where does that leave you and I? In a word: fucked. If you want to study, find work or travel in the near future, the uncertainties are pretty overwhelming. Things are going to be tough for anyone who’s got more planned in the years to come than your typical, ageing Leave voter, sitting at home watching re-runs of Downton Abbey and whining about the Poles down the street.
But don’t worry, Huck is here to make sense of the chaos, cut through the spin and sort the untruths from the unknowns and uncertainties.
1. Is Britain more racist now?
The true cost of Brexit may not be quantifiable. At the most intangible end of the scale is our sense of self – our collective cultural identity which, in the space of a few short days, is being challenged by an emboldened subset of people who hold far-right views that are not reflective of what it means to be British in the minds of the liberal majority. But when political campaigns speak in divisive terms – and win! – it legitimises xenophobia. Suddenly, it’s okay to throw your feelings onto a banner and shout at people who look entirely different to you. Hell, if it’s good enough for your leaders, and your leaders won, then your views are just the chant of a winning team.
Hours after the referendum closed, the first cries of jubilation grew a darker edge. A hashtag emerged to chronicle the violence and hate spilling out onto the street, in our schools, on our buses and in the Tesco carpark.
In Huntington, Polish residents received laminated notes through their letterboxes instructing them to pack up and go home. In Newcastle, a line-up of bald men stood proud as punch besides a banner that read, ‘Stop Immigration, Start Repatriation’, as if it was the finest piece of poetry. Incidents have been caught on video and documented via word of mouth, in a kind of terrifying chronicle of our times; from violent attacks to insidious language from the dark ages. But what does this mean for our future – and the inclusive, multicultural Britain we signed up to?
For many, these scenes of casual fascism cannot be dismissed as a blip. If we do, we risk returning to the 1970s when racism was both widespread and institutionalised. As an MP pointed out in the House of Commons on Monday: “A genie appears to have been let out of the bottle.” But the strong stance taken by the liberal left, led by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, proves that intolerance can always be countered. Just look at the policeman who proposed to his partner during Pride.
2. Will the UK’s right-wing, pro-Brexit media continue on the warpath?
“As soon as you start to see that people are fundamentally voting against their interests, you start to discern media power,” explains Dr Lee Salter, Senior Lecturer in Media & Communication at Sussex University. Lee highlights the examples of Cornwall and the North East, which were the strongest leave areas, in part because they were shielded from news that they were some of the biggest recipients of EU money.
“French philosopher Jean Baudrillard called this hyperreality – there’s no reality outside that constructed by the media and their political allies,” Lee says. “That’s what leads to politicians, mainstream media and social media all sharing this same message about the EU: crazy laws, caused a recession, too many immigrants.”
The right-wing media has been running with a strong anti-EU line, which dates back beyond Boris Johnson’s fanciful articles from Brussels about straight bananas and bureaucrats waging war on the UK. The win for Brexit is the fruit of three decades of propaganda against the EU from Fleet Street and their victory looks set to embolden them even further, Lee explains. “The newspapers especially are a law unto themselves, and there are few people in positions of power with an interest in changing that.”
3. Could progressives launch a counter-attack?
Will Brexit provoke a progressive reawakening? Is there any chance of the UK’s answer to European grassroots political parties like Podemos forming, to take back control for the people? With the UK’s archaic first past the post voting system putting the brakes on new parties at the ballot box, the movement to protect the UK from the worst aspects of Brexit will have to come from huge grassroots pressure. Paul Mason has a plan for where to begin:
4. They took our jobs! What does Brexit mean for young workers?
Rumours that up to 100,000 jobs could disappear as a result of Brexit have inspired Brits to flood the immigration websites of both Canada and New Zealand. With older workers more shielded from the recruitment freezes suggested in a recent Institute of Directors survey, the pain is likely to fall hardest on younger workers trying to get their feet on the lower rungs of the career ladder. With the EU giving the impression that they’ll make an example of the UK to stop other members defecting, opportunities to escape to elsewhere in the Union could become scarce for young British workers who could have a whole new set of hoops to jump through to work abroad.
5. Is this the end of the United Kingdom?
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon was quick to announce her desire for Scotland to leave the UK to remain part of the EU. But could other regions break away from Great Britain to retain their place in the continent-wide union? Northern Ireland could join the Republic of Ireland, an idea mooted after a strong victory for remain.
London saw a resounding remain vote, and with many businesses threatening to leave the UK based there, the capital could suffer most from Brexit. Unsurprisingly, a movement has begun to pressure Sadiq Khan to declare London as an independent city state with membership of the EU. With some areas clocking in huge support for remain, like Southwark on 94%, this movement is likely to have legs.
6. The Brexit Anthem: what does this mean for arts and culture?
The Brexit vote sent shockwaves through this weekend’s Glastonbury festival. The UK’s strong artistic and creative industries will likely suffer. Musicians are just one of many groups to be affected as the passage of culture across borders becomes more difficult, with a weak pound having a big effect on the cost of touring.
“I think the nature of touring is going to change massively,” Lauren Mayberry of CHVRCHES told the BBC. “The summer we’re looking at right now is just hopping from country to country within Europe and in order to do that when we’re not part of the European Union, we would presumably need to go to a different embassy for every different country and apply for a visa for us and everybody in our crew.”
7. What about my degree? How will Brexit affect students?
Brexit spells the end to the “Erasmus generation” (the EU’s student exchange scheme) which has got used to studying across the continent (often for free) and hanging out with European students on our home campuses. Since Friday’s result, 25% of UK employers have already stated they are less likely to employ international graduates if our education systems were to separate.
EU citizens currently studying in the UK face a rush against the clock to continue their education. University Of The Arts student Lea Vitazec, who’s Croatian, told Huck she’s had to abandon her plans to complete a masters. “Brexit definitely changed my plans and made me feel anxious about living in the place that started to be my home.”
8. Does this mean game over for the fight against climate change?
“No stone should be left unfracked,” Boris Johnson once said. EU legislation has provided the strongest protections for our wildlife and ecosystems – which the British government could scrap in one fell swoop. “This benefits developers who want to save money rather than protect the environment,” explains Livvy Cropper, an assistant biologist at Ove Arup & Partners. The devious partnership of Johnson and Michael Gove points to a bleak future for the environmental sector and could give a green light to unleash fracking.
9. Generation Wars: Will Brexit drive another wedge between young and old?
The UK already has one of the most fractured societies, when it comes to relations between young and old. With 75 per cent of voters under the age of 25 opting to stay in the EU, and the over-65s voting most strongly to leave, the gulf in expectations and outlook couldn’t be more apparent.
Opportunities for young people are slamming shut across the continent, and we’ll lose our automatic right to live and work in 27 EU countries. It’s likely younger workers will have to work harder too to pay for social spending on Britain’s ageing population, with less support from younger skilled immigrant workers, who have helped redress the balance in recent years.
10. Can anything be done to stop Brexit?
The EU referendum law passed last year thankfully gave the result no legal force – ultimately, power resides with Parliament, who could veto any move to repeal the 1972 European Communities Act which took the UK into the European Union. MPs have a right to vote to stay. A Sunday poll claims a million leave voters are already regretting their choice, so with sustained public pressure there’s a slim chance the remain camp could seize the energy that was so lacking in the campaign and force the referendum result to be overturned. It’s not over yet, but may come down to how many people take to the streets or turn up the heat from the grassroots in other ways.