I was sitting on a bus headed for upstate New York at 7 a.m. when I heard that the British public had voted to leave the European Union (EU). I grew up in England, meaning that my family and a lot of my friends still live there, so I’d been following the referendum closely, even though I couldn’t vote myself. Immediately, I was in shock — even though preliminary polls had showed that opinion was evenly divided, I’d assumed that, much like the Scottish independence referendum, when voting day came, a lot of people would change their minds and vote to stay.
It’s easy to argue that no matter how disappointing the result of a vote is to an individual, it still reflects the majority opinion. But here that’s not quite true. Only 72 percent of the population voted in the referendum, and ‘Leave’ won by 52 percent to 48 percent, meaning that had everyone who was eligible to vote done so, the result could have been wildly different. Scarier still, among young people (those who will feel the greatest effect of the results) 70 percent voted to remain, and in London (the area with the largest minority population) 60 percent voted to remain. Clearly, the result was dominated by upper class racists who already have job security and may not even be alive to see the devastating impact of their choice.
The EU controls more than many people realize. The majority of British trade exists because of the EU, so the country will lose a lot of its biggest imports and exports because of this decision, since EU countries will always prioritize trade with other EU countries. Paid maternity leave and sick leave as well as the minimum wage and other workplace rights are also EU regulated. Without the EU, companies will be free to devise their own policies regarding these things, potentially causing even worse working conditions for lower class people. And, of course, the National Health Service (NHS) will suffer, resulting in serious budget cuts to the free healthcare system that has kept so many citizens alive.
Yet, when asked their reasons for voting to leave, the vast majority of voters stated that their main goal was reducing immigration. Are the British really that scared of having a little more cultural diversity in their country that they would be willing to risk the economic and social futures of the next generation in order to prevent it?
Within 24 hours of the results, the British pound plummeted to a record low, and Prime Minister David Cameron resigned, calling into question who will actually lead the United Kingdom now and prompting even bigger changes. Although the leaders of the Vote Leave campaign advertised in huge letters on buses all over the country that a win for them would mean hundreds of millions of pounds more going towards the NHS, they openly announced following their victory that this had been a lie.
I was on a bus when I heard all this news, because in America it’s easy to travel between states. I’ve done the same thing driving from England to France — it’s a day trip and only takes a couple of hours to cross the Channel, and from there it’s possible to go anywhere in Europe. If Britain leaves the EU, that won’t be possible anymore. Security will be tighter. Borders will be stricter. And the worlds of everyone living in England will be a little smaller.