On June 23rd 2016, 51.9% of British people decided they no longer want to be part of the European Union. This tiny but historic majority threw the rest of the nation into a state of shock at best, horror at worst: the Prime Minister bolted, racists came out in their droves, and almost one year later people are still nodding through forced smiles whenever Brexit is brought up at the dinner table.
Unsurprisingly, for millions, the main concern is how this is going to affect people from the EU and their ability to move to Britain – or even whether EU citizens currently living in the UK will be allowed to stay. Removing upwards of 3 million Europeans from Britain might seem a little unfeasible, but even ex-PM David Cameron refused to rule out mass-deportation (before he ironically made a hasty departure himself).
Nigel Farage, leader of the far-right (read: racist) party UKIP, put the idea of deportation and border control firmly in the minds of countless Leave voters before the referendum. He built an entire career on the prospect of Britain ditching the EU, setting up an independent campaign in favour of the exit vote, and accusing the official Vote Leave – a cross party campaign headed by ex-Mayor of London, Boris Johnston – of not focusing heavily enough on immigration.
Combine this with the result and it’s hard not to take it as a slap in the face for the millions of people from all over Europe building their lives in Britain, not to mention the millions of Britons who have best friends, boyfriends, bosses, girlfriends, doctors, customers, blood donors (need I go on?) that are EU citizens. Imagine how many partnerships, friendships, relationships…hell, how many people wouldn’t have been born at all if it weren’t for immigration? In 2013 the Telegraph reported that around 7 out of every 10 babies born in London have at least one foreign parent.
Despite a lot of talk about ‘taking back our borders’ put forward by Farage et al., Daniel Hannan, MeP for The Tories, said shortly after the referendum result that ‘any Leave voters expecting big changes on the immigration front would be “disappointed”’, suggesting that Britain will still have access to the single market post-Brexit.
Whether or not that’s true depends on how Brexit is negotiated with Brussels. New Prime Minister, Theresa May, threw a political curveball – cue millions of exasperated groans from across the UK – when she announced an early General Election, due to be held on June 8th. Whoever the British public elect will massively effect how Brexit is handled, or whether it even goes ahead: despite rumours of a second referendum being shot down by both the current and previous PMs, a petition calling for a second Brexit vote gained more than 4 million signatures – and that’s got to be hard to ignore.
The prospect of tearing ourselves away from the EU clearly hasn’t gone down well: unsurprising really, since 75% of people aged 18-24 voting against Brexit, as did (at least) 60% of Londoners across all of the city’s 33 boroughs. There have even been calls for London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, to make the capital an independent state so it can rejoin the EU.
While that might be a little severe, there is just cause for peoples’ outrage. Tragically, the ‘Leave’ result – undoubtedly combined with the surprise election of Trump in America, and far-right leaders such as France’s Le Pen coming to the forefront of European politics – has allowed people with hateful ideas about immigration to more openly express their views. Reports of severe racism in the days and weeks following the referendum result was sickening confirmation of what the Brexit vote represented for a lot of people.
But people like this make up just a tiny percentage of society – and they most certainly do not represent London. Londoners are accepting, diverse, curious. CNN said that ‘today’s London is as international as it is British’, and that couldn’t be more true. For every red post box there’s a Turkish kebab house; ride in any black cab and have a conversation with a driver from a different part of the world; visit the V&A and view sculptures from Italy and see Egyptian mummies in the British Museum. 37% of people living in London were born outside of the UK, and scholars flock from all over the world to study at one of its 43 universities. London isn’t made great by the Union Jack, it’s the millions of people who have moved from around the globe and added to its rich, vibrant, inimitable culture.
The process of ‘officially’ leaving the EU was estimated to last two years, and in that time we will undermine the ignorance that causes division in an otherwise open, accepting and forward-thinking country. The true, undeniable and unforgettable fact is that London is built on immigration (like, literally guys, the city was built by Romans): it’s what makes the city what it is. Ask anyone who lives here and they’ll almost certainly list the city’s diversity as one of the best things about it.
The full effect that Brexit will have on Britain might still be unknown – although projections are bleak – but if fewer European people are allowed to move here as a result, London will certainly suffer. We can’t stop Britain’s capital from being one of the most welcoming, integrated and cosmopolitan cities in the world. Always know that London is a city for everyone, no matter where you’re from.