Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

British expats in Leipzig react to Brexit

The citizens of the United Kingdom have decided to leave the European Union by a very small margin of just under four percentage points. We’ve surveyed British people living in Leipzig and elsewhere, via social media, to gauge their reaction. But first, let’s look at the election map and try to get a grip on how this happened. Two important factors stand out there.

First, there is a clear geographical divide, as London, Northern Ireland, and Scotland voted to remain in the EU, while England and Wales voted to leave the union. The result in Scotland is especially important: They had the largest percentage of “remain” votes, and this is pushing the Scottish government, led by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to call for a new independence referendum.

Second, there is a clear generational gap. The majority of British citizens under 45 voted to remain in the EU, while the majority of those over 45 voted to leave. In fact, there is a clear upward-sloping trend showing that the older the British voter, the more likely that he or she voted to leave the EU, and vice versa. However, older voters go to the polls in greater numbers than younger ones. This was likely a decisive factor in the Brexit outcome.

The leadership of the European Union is in shock, as there is no precedent to a member state leaving the organization. Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty lays out the general procedure for a member state to leave the union.

The process of withdrawing from the EU is kick-started by the UK government notifying the European Commission that they intend to leave. Then, a two-year re-negotiation process of the very many number of treaties between the two parties begins. The second step has not happened yet; the referendum only gives a mandate for the UK government to start the process.

However, there are many details that remain unknown until negotiations between the UK and the EU get well under way. One point that is worrying for expats – both British expats in continental Europe and Europeans in the UK – is freedom of movement and work/residence permits.

This is one of the points highlighting the uncertainty surrounding British readers of The Leipzig Glocal, as shown by their reactions below. (Note: Readers’ reactions to the Brexit result have been anonymized and reflect the opinion of the readers and not of the editorial board of The Leipzig Glocal).

“I’m very disappointed. I think it’s a backward step. The anger that caused this is legitimate as the economy is slowing, living standards are dropping and people have been faced with a lack of jobs and a systematic lack of investment, but they are attacking the wrong target. Globalisation and outsourcing is what has caused these problems and the big question is how we deal with these developments in the future. Losing our voice in Europe will not help us at all in these situations and neither will the protectionism that politicians are reaching for as their default response. People are looking for simple answers to complicated questions and there aren’t any.”

“Flying to the former UK tomorrow! Little Britain! Mad decision – seemingly based on dissatisfaction with the Tory Government and not on Europe at all. There is a petition which currently has 2 million signatures that started yesterday. I feel quite angry as, because I have lived outside the UK for 15 years, I was not allowed to register to vote, so many people who live in the EU and are British citizens have been denied a voice in something that may significantly affect them.”

“There is so much vitriol and spite flying around on the Internet right now. The remainers are devastated because they never really thought it would happen and the leavers are starting to feel the same way. They’re like a bunch of little kids who kept threatening to run away from home if they couldn’t get their own way. Then suddenly Mum says, Right, enough, enough. Here’s your stuff, you little brat, get out and then slams the door behind them. They’re sitting on the doorstep with tear-streaked faces, defiantly telling anyone who’ll listen that they didn’t want to live there anyway, but secretly feeling lost and alone. It’s an image I just can’t shake.”

“Karl Marx’s point with communism was that democracy should be as local as possible. When you dilute people’s votes, they end up with a place that isn’t exactly as they want to live. The EU dilutes things to a ridiculous level. We should have a close relationship with Europe, but we shouldn’t be part of its political governance. I think that’s fair.”

“Sad that there are so many idiots in the UK who are so blinded by mass media bullshit. And sad that I’m not surprised.” (From a Londoner not living in Leipzig)

Have you been affected by the Brexit result? Are you a British expat in continental Europe, or an EU citizen in the UK? Let us know your reaction to this historic event.

Updated 23.02.23

A political scientist who follows global events with pious devotion. A Venezuelan by virtue of being born in that interesting tropical place, but who has lived and studied in several places around the world. He will write some analysis on important global issues, especially if they have an impact on Germany or Leipzig.

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