By David F. Rooney
Unless you were living under a rock you know that the people of Great Britain voted to leave the European Union and that the results are not pretty.
“Divisive” is a word many commentators are using to describe the referendum and its aftermath. It has shaken up world markets and reverberations can even be felt here in Revelstoke — especially among the many Britons who have chosen to live here. I contacted some of those I know and asked them to share their thoughts.
51.9% of voters voted to leave the EU and 48.1% wanted to remain. But only 72 per cent of the UK’s 46 million eligible voters actually cast ballots in the so-called Brexit referendum.
The result was further complicated by the fact that Scotland and Northern Ireland to stay in the EU. Those regions are now contemplating their options. According to many observers, Scotland will almost certainly hold another referendum on their union with England. Northern Ireland, too, is thinking about leaving the UK and joining Ireland, which is an EU member state.
The vote doomed UK Prime Minister David Cameron. He announced he will resign, likely this fall once his Conservative Party has held a leadership convention. The Opposition Labour Party is also in upheaval; 20 members of its shadow cabinet have resigned and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is under intense pressure to step down. There will almost certainly be other political and economic shudders in the UK and around the world as the full effects of the Brexit decision are revealed.
Some of those reverberations are being felt by former Britons living here in Revelstoke and elsewhere in the Kootenays.
“I think to say we are devastated would be an understatement,” said Jackie Pendergast. “I cannot believe the leave campaign won and for such a division to have taken place. I fear there will be civil unrest. There is no doubt the bureaucracy of the EU has been a major factor in people’s voting choice but I believe the major issues of immigration and lack of employment opportunities played a huge part and there will be millions of disaffected people.”
Jackie has lived here since 2005 and she and her husband Garry became Canadian citizens six or seven years ago. They still have strong ties to England and are apprehensive about Brexit decision’s effect on them.
“We left England because we wanted to live a different style of life to the pressured one we had,” she told The Current. “It was not an easy decision to leave our ‘home country’ but we have never regretted it. The lifestyle we enjoy today would not be possible in England.
“Economically the Brexit vote will no doubt affect us personally especially in the short term and we will have to wait and see what happens in the future. It is a time of great uncertainty. I wish I could feel optimistic about the change but at this moment in time I can’t.”
Jamie Mayes, the new executive director of the Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce, said that from the “Chamber’s standpoint the long-term consequences (remain) to be seen but in the short term we have seen significant impacts on the global financial markets. As the European Union is one of the worlds largest economies this decision does reverberate around the world.”
The Brexit decision and its economic fallout could be felt here as visitors from the UK decide to put off a North Ameican vacation, she said.
“For now, we need to recognize that there will be a major impact on geopolitics and on the global economy,” she said. “The issues that will arise will need to be managed calmly and creatively with a focused approach that will encourage stability and build public and investor confidence.”
Angus Glass, a Scot who immigrated to Canada in 1993, thinks the decision was the wrong one for the future but the angry campaign inflamed people’s emotions and that was that.
He feels very sorry for young people in the UK. As a demographic segment they wanted to remain in the EU because it offered them options and opportunities that going it alone simply does not do.
“Divisive” is a word you hear many commentators using and Kathryn and Colin Horkley know exactly what that means.
“What I found totally bewildering is the emotion it has stirred up for so many with family and friends completely divided,” Kathryn said. “Colin’s side of the family were adamant we should be staying and were furious at the mudslinging, dirty tactics and downright lies that the leave campaign was saying. Yet on the other hand, my side of the family were up in arms at the remain campaign for their scare tactics. A good friend of ours said on Skype… as he got back from the polling station that he was torn – really torn. Half of him said leave and half of him said stay. He only voted stay because he felt he didn’t know financially whether he would be better or worse off and decided he would be ‘better off with the devil he knew.’”
When we decided to emigrate to Canada back in 2004, we were… both working in good jobs, myself as a software test engineer and Colin as production engineer, both in international leading edge companies and commuting to and from work every day for hours on end. It took four years for our visas to come through and we ecstatic! We were sick and tired of living in the UK. Sick and tired of the rat race and feeling we had no prospects for the future. Retirement was looking like it would never happen as the government were raising the limit, again! Interest rates were going up and up and up… and… We felt we could no longer call England home. Our (kingdom’s) stake in the EU was costing us £130 million a week (apparently) and for the 30+ years I had been paying into system, I felt I was getting nothing out of it. I felt the UK had lost its identity. For me I felt we should just call ourselves European and not English – what was the difference?”
Kathryn said that after the results were announced her mother messaged her “full of joy and going ‘yippee!’ and her daughter felt much the same way.
“To be honest… if I was back home in the UK, what would I have voted,” she asked. “Probably leave!”
A friend recently told her that between the UK separating from the EU and Donald Trump’s possible win in the US election campaign this coming November “both countries will be f**ked. Time will tell, David.”
David Savage was struck by emotions driving the anti-EU vote
“Many people did not vote their pocketbooks,” he said. “I believe many who voted to leave were not thinking about their financial situation. It seems to be more of a cultural vote, in which the immigration crisis in the world played a role.”
Indeed, British news media have reported a wave of hate crimes since the results were announced.
“The most significant result of the referendum is the generational rift between the under-45s, the marked majority of whom voted to remain, whereas with boomers and seniors it was the opposite,” he said. “This is a new cultural phenomenon, in which the younger generation is blaming their elders for ruining their future a very divisive factor.
“The similarity to Trumpism, with nationalism, economic disillusionment and the lack of trust in both political elites and business in general, is unmistakable. The political class hopefully will take a lesson from this. Here in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whatever else his failings, at least seems to understand the importance of keeping in touch, in a visceral way, with ordinary people.”
That was something UK Prime Minister David Cameron failed to do and the ill-fated Brexit referendum could well end with the dissolution of the United Kingdom. Scotland, Northern Ireland and even Gibraltar are now considering their options.
“A petition calling for remaining in the EU has attracted over 3 million signatures as of June 25, and the referendum results must still be ratified by a Parliament opposed to leaving the EU, so maybe there’s still hope, but it’s hard to see how this referendum can be ignored,” Savage said. “The challenges facing the new leadership of a possibly new government are immense. Britain now has to form separate trade agreements with 27 EU members, plus all the others around the world. Quite a task for a nation that has not developed a cohort of trade negotiators.
“And Revelstoke, forget about tourists from Britain — the pound is falling, and will likely continue to lose value.”