EU referendum: Challenges Facing Britain

On 23-June over 33 million Brits voted in the “Brexit” EU referendum. 51.9% of voters voted to leave the EU. Since the referendum I have surveyed twenty of my friends and relatives about their thoughts and opinions; people from all walks of life that live all over England and Wales. To my surprise, eighteen from the twenty voted to remain, a proportion that strongly goes against the voting results in England and Wales where 53.4% and 52.5%, respectively, voted to leave the EU. This article aims to explain why a few people voted to remain and how they feel about the future.

A few days after the vote, I sent a questionnaire to many of my friends and relatives to help me write this article. Twenty kindly took the time to respond sharing their thoughts on the referendum and how they voted. The questionnaire aimed to reveal the participants’ personal reasons for voting, which were extremely varied and insightful.

Stronger Together

Many people expressed their views on the EU and the benefits that the UK enjoys from being a member state. The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and European labour laws are valued by British people. If anyone takes the time to read about the treaty and laws, it becomes clear how important they are to people.

For instance, the ECHR, with its eighteen articles, attempts to protect people from torture, servitude and discrimination. Article 8 provides a right to respect one’s privacy and a right to be free of unlawful searches, while Article 10 provides the right to freedom of expression. European labour laws cover health and safety, pensions and social security. An important labour law is the right of free movement within the EU; something many Brits take advantage of.

James, from Sussex who lives in London, shared his opinions on the right of free movement. Having lived in Spain and France, James has benefitted from this right and hopes that one day his young daughter will have the opportunity to travel freely as well. At present there are around 1.2 million Brits living in another EU country. Many British emigrants are retirees that decide to live in countries such as Ireland, Spain and France. Thousands of young people decide to study abroad within the EU, enriching their education and minds.

Agriculture & Tourism

sheep

A few of my friends and family are from rural Britain and worry about the future of their livelihoods. Agriculture in the UK employs almost half a million people and is predicted to suffer as a result of Brexit. The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy channels most of the subsidies that Britain’s farming depends on. UK farmers receive the fifth largest agricultural subsidy in the EU and in total, 55% of the UK’s total income from farming comes from these subsidies. In 2015 alone, UK farmers received £2.4 billion in direct payments.

Tom from Anglesey, North Wales, explained to me that his father and brother are farmers. Like many other farming families they are more than a little worried about losing access to their biggest and most important export market. People in Wales feel that the country benefits enormously from EU grants. Agriculture primarily, as mentioned, depends on EU funds but so do Wales’ national parks that attract millions of tourists to the country. Many people have no confidence that Westminster will adequately replace this investment and local communities will suffer as a consequence.

Scientific Research

Scientists also fear the effects Brexit will have on them. Adam, a geneticist living in Liverpool, explained how important the UK’s relationship to Europe is to science and medicine. Britain receives millions in research funds from the EU and many do not believe that the government will replace the money after Brexit. Members of the Royal Society have warned that leaving the EU will hamper research in Britain. Among them Stephen Hawking who said Brexit will be a disaster for UK science.

Future Collapse of the UK & EU

A future break-up of the UK and even that of the EU weighed heavily on the minds of many voters.

Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was quick to call for a second Scottish independence referendum as soon as the result of the Brexit vote was announced. Sturgeon believes that Scottish interests have been put at risk by the Brexit result and that Prime Minister Theresa May’s unwillingness to consider a second Scottish referendum is completely wrong.

New British Prime Minister Theresa May meeting First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon at Bute House in Edinburgh

Prime Minister Theresa May and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

Eurosceptic political parties from across Europe have called for referendums since Brexit. Czech President Milos Zeman has called for a referendum on the country’s membership to the EU and NATO. Leading members of the anti-mass migration Alternative for Germany (AfD) and French far-right leader Marine Le Pen want every member state to have a referendum. It would be unimaginable to envision an EU without the UK, Germany and France.

Fear & Hate

The rise of xenophobia, racism and nationalism in Britain are serious concerns for many of the people who took part in the survey. They are fearful that a victory for the Leave campaign will result in a rise in racist attacks on minorities and foreigners. Unfortunately, these fears appear legitimate as a series of incidents have been reported since the referendum. Violence, intimidation and calls for minorities to “Go home” have surged over the last few weeks. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, has urged the authorities to act to stop these xenophobic attacks and ensure that those suspected of abuses are prosecuted.

Several people expressed that they feel a connection to Europe that goes beyond politics. Europe to some is a symbol of international cooperation and the world should be coming together not drifting further apart; a global family. That now is the time to improve international relations in the face of such uncertainty. We are better off inside some say and that you can’t improve Europe without being a full member. Better the devil you know a friend quoted.

The reasons people voted to remain reflect the concerns of a large portion of the public. 51.9% of voters did vote to leave, some 17.4 million people, but 16 million people voted to remain and have some genuine fears and concerns about an uncertain future for Britain and the EU. The government must appease people’s fears concerning citizens’ rights, agriculture and tourism, investments in science and the rise of racism and bigotry.

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