One of the most earthshaking events in world history has happened just this summer: The UK voted to leave the European Union. Most of the world is still reeling, trying to figure out how in the world to react to what is happening in Europe right now.
With all of the controversy over the Brexit, you might wonder who in the world would vote for such an unprecedented measure?
Welcome to the people that voted to leave the EU.
One thing you will quickly learn about the people behind the Brexit is that no two people have the same reason for wanting to leave. Most of the people who did vote to leave were from a very similar background: they are blue-collar workers, white, and middle class people. Many of these people also come from a background of people very similar to them; many of the “leave” voters did not have much contact with people from other parts of the world and other experiences.
One thing you might also pick up now is that because of that similarity between people, it did not take much for the idea of leaving the UK to spread rapidly. When everyone comes from the same type of background, ideas about the government and what it should and should not do tend to be pretty similar from person to person.
Trust me, I’m from the American South. I know that firsthand.
One young woman that I spoke to from England said “The reason people voted to leave is because they’re simply racist. They don’t want other people to keep flooding into our country from other countries, so they voted to leave so we can keep more people out.”
Let’s talk about that for a minute!
For background, her father runs a business that extends throughout the EU, and the Brexit will have a catastrophic effect on how their family business is able to DO business. They will now have to cross borders, use passports to travel (although that is not set yet) and generally make life more complicated.
Many people from the UK middle class are very opposed to the idea of immigrants coming in to the UK unchecked. And to be fair to them, border security is no joke! But like the US, the middle class often has more issues with immigrants than most other demographics.
Another friend of mine from Northern Ireland told me that the Brexit will cause huge troubles with travel between parts of Ireland; cities like Belfast will take the hardest hit because the border between Northern Ireland (UK) and Ireland (Independent) goes right through it. And Ireland already has lots of problems with violence without adding a country border to patrol.
Many of the friends that I have made from the UK come from solidly middle-class families, just like the statistical family that I have described early in this piece. Many people who voted to leave are of the British Labour Party, the party of Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The general idea of many people is that they simply do not care what happens to the UK. One person I talked to said that “the Labour Party is going to get screwed if we stay and will be screwed if we leave, so we might as well just leave. The British working class is often resentful of the elites and the establishment, a sentiment that many Donald Trump and (more to the point) Bernie Sanders supporters could heavily identify with. Many people who voted to leave were people who were being told by elites that were out of touch with them that they HAD to stay, so they simply voted against what the establishment told them to do.
And as much as I like sticking it to the man that way, one has to wonder if voting “because a higher up told you to do the opposite” is the best policy to make massive decisions on. To be frank, only time will tell. The British pound sterling lost over 10% of its value against the US dollar, which is a massive blow to a currency that has traditionally done very well. However, there is a good chance that it will recover its strength, depending on what happens next.
Although race still does have a large part in the separation of Britain from the EU, class plays one of the largest parts in this ongoing debate. Great Britain has always been a land of classes; the upper rich class has a say, and the working class does not. Is this just the first of many future steps to make sure that the voice of the lower class is heard?
So let’s pose a few more questions. Did the middle classes know what they were doing when they voted to leave the EU? Did they really think through the massive repercussions of separating from the EU? To my American friends, this would be like if Illinois, Indiana, Virginia, and North Carolina all decided to become different countries. It would wreak havoc with business within the nation (international taxes and borders) and with people who have family that live in those new “countries.” Did the British working class have knowledge of politics to make an informed decision based on carefully researched facts?
According to many of my British friends, the answer was no.
Many people simply made this voting decision based on anger and the desire to make a quick change; in some cases, they simply wanted to be contrary to what the government and the elites were telling them to do. Because why should they listen to them?
The Brexit is more than a movement; real people voted to either stay or remain, and they all had their reasons for doing so. It is impossible to say that it happened for one reason or another, but one thing is for sure: classism in the UK is alive and well, and until something is done about that no progress can be made to fixing the problems they face.