This morning, the news was dominated by the incredibly surprising “Brexit”—a portmanteau for “British Exit”—signifying the United Kingdom’s majority vote to leave the European Union. We spoke briefly with British Baltimoreans and Baltimoreans living in Britain about their reactions to the momentous decision.
Patrick Lears, a Baltimore-born gallery manager who has been living in the UK for 18 years:
“I woke at 5 a.m. this morning to see the results and was shocked—though not entirely surprised. It has been a very close race the last few weeks and even with the murder of MP (Member of Parliament) Jo Cox by a right wing fanatic, I felt it could go either way. I don’t normally, but I took to social media straight away and the feed was just exploding—no one I knew voted Leave. There was an out-pouring of disbelief.
I have been Remain from the very beginning. The rise of the right was made apparent in the last general election when David Cameron was voted into office. This was a shock to most people I knew and London then, as now, did not vote Tory/Conservative. It is hard to know where to place the anger, as London did not vote this way, and it feels in a way like we are being held hostage by the largely disaffected (and sometimes racist) working class from the small cities of the UK. They have been neglected for so long. It is a complicated situation.
In the last few years, I have had to do a lot of explaining to London friends about the rise of Donald Trump and the saturation of gun violence. Fear seems to have permeated the world. I am concerned that the pound has plummeted and I own a flat here that will likely depreciate over night—but I love London and have no plans to move back to the States. I do think we are in for a rough ride.”
Neill Howell, British chef and co-owner of Baltimore’s The Corner Pantry:
“I’m still trying to process it. I’m not really sure who it’s going to benefit. I haven’t lived [in the U.K.] for almost 14 years, and a lot has changed. I spoke to my mum this morning and she was kind of freaking out. How it would affect me was the first thing I thought about—but I’m not sure yet. Before the vote, I hadn’t been following that closely. I need to read more about it, but I think it’s kind of crazy. The U.K. is a small, small place and I’m not sure how they’re going to survive on their own.”
Ruth Toulson, British professor of anthropology at MICA:
“I just was gutted, to be honest. I really, really did not think it was going to happen. I was so certain that it was going to be a Remain vote—so much so, actually, that when I woke up this morning I didn’t even check it first thing. When I did check and saw that it was Leave, I just was really sad and worried and just trying to understand how this could have happened. [I’m] really worried that this is a big victory for racism and xenophobia. When I think of England and people that I know, that’s not how I imagine England.
I reached out to my brother, too, and my parents [who still live in England] who had all voted to Remain even though they’re quite divided in terms of their politics. My brother has two young children and he just said, ‘This will be a really different and much worse future for them.’ They’re all crushed and worried too.
I also think there’s a real class divide. Spirits are really down in England and people blame their own poverty on other things, like immigration, even though the two things are probably not connected. For people who already feel like they’ve lost a lot, if you tell them, ‘Oh, we’re going to lose more,’ it doesn’t matter. They just want something to be different no matter what. There was a generational divide, but I think it’s a class thing too.”
Mikita Brottman, Baltimore-based British author of “Maximum Security Book Club”:
“To be honest, my only concern about the vote is whether the UK will repeal the EU quarantine laws that they accepted in 2012 and return to the former 6-month quarantine for animals entering the country. That will determine how often I go back, as I don’t go anywhere without my bulldog!”