There have been many movements and changes going on in international politics in past years- but much attention is also on an event that does not seem to move since more than three years- and if it moves, then not necessarily forward, but to the left and right and sometimes also backwards: Brexit. Going on exchange to the UK during the summer semester of 2019, I got a brief idea of the mood in the country.
Is it coming, when and how? These are the questions that not only Brits, but all Europeans are asking when it comes to the exit of the UK from the EU. No one has any idea what is going to happen because politics keep changing directions all the time and the government does not seem to have one united direction that they are moving towards. Currently, the planned date for the Brexit is the 31st of October 2019. But by the time you are reading this, the world might have already changed again.
Being on exchange in the UK when Brexit was supposed to happen (but did not), I could experience the “chaos” that it creates. It is not an obvious mess, everyday life is still functioning- but questions appear here and there and, most importantly, no one knows what to prepare for: Move!? But where to?
Before leaving, I talked to Brexit protesters in Westminster in front of the British parliament. They use every opportunity to make their point and many of them come regularly to this place. We had a long conversation that revealed insights into the situation and some problems of the country. It needs to be mentioned that I made my experiences in the cities of London and Brighton where the population voted mainly for Remain. So yes, these quotes are opinions and represent a certain point of view. They are not representative of the whole UK or a claim of truth by Pike & Hurricane.
“I wish I would wake up and it’s not”
The real frustration derives from the lack of action from all politicians, the leading Conservative Party as well as the opposition. The Labour Party for instance is not united in what they want, which hinders them from taking a clear stance.
“The Labour Party does not know what it wants. […it] has got to make a decision and they want to try to be in the EU and not be in the EU. So, people are really frustrated with the Labour Party because they are not making a decision”
The country is not moving in one direction, instead everyone seems to want something different.
How could it come that far? Many possible explanations exist,therefore, it is interesting to see what the people in the streets are saying. Based on what they said it is possible to paint a picture of distrust and misinformation. One aspect are unequal conditions in the country, the other one is that various actors blame the fault on other actors- mainly the EU- and use the old geopolitical rivalries between the UK and continental Europe. In that regars, the press does have a significant role to play when it comes to shaping the public opinion through their information and story-telling.
“It is a brainwashing thing. We have a very poor press […] in this country and it supports this nonsense.”
Many still have the political views of the last world war in their mind which saw Germany as the opponent, and thus eat up stories that the EU is controlled by Germany who is trying to dictate laws on Britain and undermine its sovereignty.
“It’s a terrible situation in this country, there are a lot of very unhappy people, […] so they blamed Europe, the politicians blamed Europe”.
The protesters in Westminster see dark times ahead if Brexit takes place. They fight especially for the faith of future generations who will lose the privileges of the EU, that present generations could enjoy.
“[In] particular the young people, they are the ones who suffer. It won’t be the older people with their houses and their cars and their pensions, they are all set up, so they can afford to be nationalistic and stupid. But it is actually going to threaten the working opportunities of my children”.
And they are disappointed in their own country and where it is moving.
“I thought I lived in a diverse country that is reasonably progressive […] but we are not progressive at all- we are going backwards.”
“I’m British, and I’m European. And I would say that I’m European first and British second.”
“We can’t afford to give up”
The protesters I met see leaving the EU not as the solution to problems. Changing an institution can only be done from within.
“Like many other organisations, the EU has its faults, you can try to change it.”
That is why they are hoping for another “people’s vote”, which is the reason why they still stand regularly in front of Westminster to protest. Since the last referendum three years have passed and according to them, many people only see now what actually will happen to their country and therefore come to the realisation that they would not vote for Leave anymore. The Brexit referendum has no support and mandate anymore to be executed, they say.
“We haven’t voted to leave , a small minority of the overall population […] voted Brexit. A lot of people have changed their minds, the opinion polls suggest that. On a decision of this importance, we are fighting for another referendum, a second opportunity”
“People know more about what is in price and we are confident that if we get another referendum […] we will remain full members of the EU”
It needs to be kept in mind that the disagreement over British politics just reflects the many conflicting opinions in the UK. And they need to be respected, listened to and understood to resolve the situation.
What seems to unite the UK now, is that they want something to be done, they want to know in which direction they are moving. The British people are frustrated because too little is happening. And that makes it tricky, also for the international political community: how to deal with a country that does not know where it stands and where it will go? That is the real problem of this constant moving back and forth: the time, energy and resources that are spent on Brexit could be better invested in solving problems of more pressing issues. May it be environmental issues, culture clashes, the gap between rich and poor or the city and the countryside, security questions… the list of priorities is long.
Before leaving, I asked the protesters for a message they want to give to the rest of Europe. They all sounded similar:
“Please don’t give up on us!”
“Please be patient. Don’t chuck us out, ‘cause it’s not sorted out here.”
“Millions of us love you.”
Written by Nina Kolarzik
all photos by Nina Kolarzik, All Rights Reserved