Brexit: I’m the outsider now


BRITAIN-EU-VOTE-BREXITA man takes a copy of the London Evening Standard with the front page reporting the resignation of British Prime Minister David Cameron and the vote to leave the EU in a referendum, showing a pictured of Cameron holding hands with his wife Samantha as they come out from 10 Downing Street, in London on June 24, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL

At a wedding about five years ago I chatted briefly with a marketing trend spotter. He told me the 21st Century would be defined by communities turning in on themselves, largely due to the impact of 9/11 (this was long before Islamic State).

CCTV’s Owen Fairclough is traveling in his native England and has a first hand account of the country on the Brexit vote. 

In an age of unprecedented connectivity, we would instead choose to close rank. This sounded like tipsy hipster talk at the time – this guy had tight trousers and big hair, after all. But that conversation is ringing in my ears as I try to make sense of the most profound British political event in my lifetime.

Make no mistake: for all the Leave campaign’s talk about the fresh trading opportunities Brexit would create, this was ultimately a vote driven by those who want to turn away immigrants and turn their backs, all at a time when supranational organisations like the World Trade Organisation and United Nations tell us opening up is the only way forward.

It is no coincidence that voters in this part of Eastern England who returned some of the highest percentages in favour of leaving the European Union are also those who are living with immigrants largely from the newest EU member states. Globalization advocates need to sit up and listen: this referendum is a defining moment in global history. It’s a collective shout from 52 percent of a country against the free movement of people – and by implication, trade – they disliked long before the current migrant crisis and Islamic State attacks in Europe.

I’ve spent nearly 10 years living first in France, now the U.S., assuming the relative ease of working in foreign cultures as a Brit would be an eternal testament to the U.K. – and by extension, the EU. We don’t know yet what kind of deal London will strike with the EU or its individual member states for Britons to work there – or just as importantly, EU citizens to work here.

I studied in Paris with a Saudi naval officer and an Uzbek who used to talk wistfully about getting visas to watch a Premier League football match in London (their Schengen area visas gave them unrestricted movement in most parts of Europe; Britain opted out).

It was the first time I’d had to consider living in the EU as someone from outside. Now I’m that outsider.