Yesterday morning I had agreed to start my shift at 7:30 (I usually do that but normally not on a Friday). Now seeing as I needed to go to bed early, I decided to just go to sleep, then read the news once I got to work. My mood soured when, upon arrival, a certain colleague and my trainer greeted me with "don't you need a visa to work here?"
My response? "Piss off!"
With that, before even opening a single news website, before even visiting any social media, I knew that Britain had voted to leave the EU. 51.9% to 48.1% voting remain according to final counts, with about 33.5 million votes cast (rounded down for simplification). The interesting thing is that the key influence at play in the decision had not been age, had not been generations or even class, it seemed to be regions.
While I am personally saddened by this result, I am not completely surprised. Since I work in a multi-national environment in the Czech Republic, I was able to gauge a wide range of emotions, reactions, even questions to me. My Italian friend was very sad and upset as he viewed the EU, with all its faults, as one large family and felt the UK was leaving in an acrimonious divorce. The Poles and Czechs were understandably worried about the fate of their kin in Britain, as well as the idea that Britain exiting could cause a break down of the EU, which is something all members of the Višegrad 4 heavily rely on (Britain would do just fine outside the EU, these 4 countries not so much). One of the Swedish guys at work agreed with me that the EU leadership and political members should have done more to address the EU's weaknesses before this vote even took place! Only now are they, in particular the Swedish political leadership, seeing and saying it's time to take a good look at the EU in its current form. This discussion should have taken place years ago!
Throughout yesterday morning and lunchtime I was talking about the ramifications of Brexit with friends and colleagues. The first panic some of them had was the loss of the ability to enter Britain on just standard ID, at which point I reminded them that no, Britain never was part of Schengen, so they have always and will always need passports to enter. Upon seeing the news of the value of the Pound Sterling plummeting, my Italian friend (who had wanted to weep at the result) started saying everyone abroad should purchase Pounds, as many as possible to sell later. My Czech friend married to my French friend broke the news of David Cameron's resignation, even looking at the regional map to see who voted what and where.
The next big concern was all my friends' and colleagues concerns for what will happen to the British expats: people like our manager Benny, me and a certain newcomer, as well as a few others dotted around the city and the few hundred around Czech Republic, as well as the few hundred thousand living throughout the EU. Cameron's resignation speech did confirm that the current status quo will be kept for now. I also advised that it's unlikely we'll be "recalled". It's more likely that, since we're contributors to taxes and insurance, we'll be left alone but I foresee paperwork in the future - annoying but doable. But I also revealed that I'll be just fine as I have a German passport! This discussion then went towards the various EU migrants living in Britain, mostly Czechs and Poles but this included the Italians, French, Swedes, Germans, etc. I pointed out Britain would not expel them: doing so would immediately make fellow European countries enemies - something they do not want. I pointed out that, specifically, the right to work in the UK without a visa meant that an EU migrant only needed to show their passport as proof of ID and their right to work, in order to register for the National Insurance number. It's this NI number that gets people employment in the UK, not ID. So in the future, once the negotiations are either started or settled (we still don't know), it's most likely that those migrants already living and settled and with an NI number will stay. Should they permanently move out of the country, they will then need to apply for a work visa if they choose to return to live. New migrants would have to get a work visa, that would be their proof when getting the NI number. I believe that for tourism, a passport should suffice.
So now, certain problems have cropped up. I don't just mean the pound plummeting; sudden drops in currency value can assist those with debts to pay and houses to buy in the short term (if they're smart). The problems I'm referring to are unity. You see, I'll reveal why I voted to stay: I read and understood the concerns and criticisms of the Leave camp, and I don't mean the people who just shouted and complained for no reason. There are issues with free movement of people - I accept that, it's unfair for a richer country to get the brightest and best from those trained in poorer countries, leaving said countries suffering from a brain drain. It's also unfair that there are people purchasing passports for Estonia (for example) for the right to live in the UK. These are real problems. Additionally, there are problems relating to the migrant camp(s) in Calais and other issues surrounding the ongoing refugee crisis. There are also issues involving the EU democratic deficit, sovereignty, the British Parliament's right and power to scrutinise and veto policy, security issues, us sending the EU money when the EU budgets have not been approved in years...I understand all of these concerns. But knowing how both the EU and the world works, I personally felt leaving the EU would solve absolutely none of them. There will still be issues with refugees and at Calais, those newer EU members still need proper development support and prevention of their brain drain, there will still be fraud and passport purchases, we are still under threat from terrorism and organised crime and frankly, what safeguards do we have to properly safeguard British government activity and have the UK government budget also be properly sound, which it hasn't been for decades (sound familiar)?
Nathan, my brother, the qualified doctor, is very worried that without EU safeguards and regulations (the ones regarding marketplace competition specifically) the NHS will be dismantled and sold off to private healthcare providers.
So, since those ardent people who campaigned for and voted to leave the EU are adamant that this choice is the right one and that Britain will be better and stronger: they have a challenge on their hands. Frankly, we should all be engaged the next few months and years, so that the Britain coming out is the Britain we want. So, those who will spearhead the negotiations for withdrawal, I challenge you: I challenge you to reunite the United Kingdom. Scotland and N. Ireland voted to stay and are now calling for independence and rejoining ROI respectively. I had even been told that veto against EU membership was the only reason Scotland voted to stay in the end. London voted to stay in a resounding majority and even they are calling to become an independent city state (don't be ridiculous). So your challenge is to unite the countries, explain why the United Kingdom benefits everyone, what leaving the EU will bring and why the changes will be positive.
Gibraltar voted overwhelmingly - 96% - to stay in the EU, since they are understandably worried about worsening relations with Spain in the event of an exit. Under the EU, this was basically a non-issue and a bunch of neighbourly garden arguments. Now there is a brewing diplomatic crisis. The coming heads of foreign policy need to find a solution, one suggestion of mine would be to hand back Gibraltar to Spain under the condition that the British citizens be allowed to stay, with no need to apply for special visas or Spanish domicile status, with the Euro being used as a parallel currency to the Pound.
The next challenge is what to do about Calais. Right now, there are no proper actions being taken on either end of the Channel Tunnel to stop illegal migrant boarding of vehicles. Nor are there much efforts to clear "the jungle". Britain and France must come together to draw up a new plan and new ideas on regulating and running the tunnel. The refugees and migrants need to be brought to a proper shelter and properly documented, processed and assessed. I challenge you, the negotiators, to spearhead this negotiation.
The next challenge is to remain a strong friend to Europe - the continent. There is so much more that Britain can do to the countries requiring further development and further economic support. I have been told time and again by my Polish friends just how difficult it is to start up an own company in Poland, thanks to all the red tape and regulations. Most of the Polish workers find work in temporary contracts handed out by major international IT support companies. This will not do, they need more small and medium sized enterprises. Britain can hand out tiny cash loans and organise workshops to help and support local entrepeneurs, thus opening new trade links for both countries. This is just one idea of many.
I don't expect all of my ideas to be carried through, but now is the time to consider options.
Interestingly enough, there are a lot of people who confessed to voting Leave and now regret it. I am amazed at some of the stories - some of them took the smack talk and unchecked claims at face value (including the stupid statement by Nigel Farrage that the Ł350 million a week paid to the EU would go straight to the NHS), others felt their vote wouldn't matter, others had no idea what the impact of voting to leave was. At first, I did wonder if there was a wave of emotional voters blindly obeying The Sun, but it seems there were people who just weren't that aware of either how important their vote was, or how effective it would be. It's not an election - your vote was not going to be buried within the safe seat stronghold majority. However, one of them did wonder why polling stations didn't have an objective For/Against display or presentation to allow undecided voters a last chance to consider. So? Since the referendum did not have to be legally binding, there is the possibility that, maybe, in 2 years time, once the negotiations are complete and Britain's new relationship with the EU and its members are defined, there could be a second referendum to either accept the conditions, or to reject them and resume as a normal EU member. (I doubt it'll happen but it's a nice idea and a gesture to the electorate.)
So, David Cameron is stepping down as Prime Minister, since he was definitely Remain. The election of the new leader of the Conservative Party will certainly be interesting...
Time to confess something dirty: the idea of Boris Johnson as the new British Prime Minister gives me the warm fuzzies.