by Bridie Strowe-Bolger ’24
Controversial issues are in Britain’s long history. On January 31, 2020, in a difficult decision, The UK officially exited the European Union at 1800 eastern time. Brexit indicates the true extent of division in the country, which unfortunately seems to be a growing trend in modern countries with the rise in nationalism and state pride. This division is sourced by a clash between older citizens, concerned with Britain’s autonomy and going back to ‘the good days’, and newer voters, concerned more with human rights of education and asylum.
With a winning vote of 51.9% the older demographic of voters were overjoyed to receive the increased autonomy. Although the vote did not end in victory for those concerned with Brexit’s effect on refugees and students, the silver lining for younger voters moving forward could be the jaw-dropping 72% of total voter turnout.
We observe a direct correlation between youth and the percentage of voters against exiting. This indicates an interesting change in values between generations, which contributes to the increased division Britain is experiencing. Another factor is the increasing number of refugees entering the EU. It was a topic for public debate and called for immigration to be at the forefront of voter’s minds as they made their way to the polls.
Britain’s older citizens have never been ashamed of their opposition to refugees. That being said, the nation is receiving significantly less refugee and asylum activity than other EU members. The younger voter demographic, primarily students, seems to be much more interested in keeping borders open. When asked about their opinions on Brexit, and its effects on immigration, British students expressed significantly more concern for the safety of refugees. One student answered: “I believe in a world free from borders. I believe in human rights.”
Some of the worst effects of Brexit have undoubtedly been on those pursuing higher education. As a well-experienced country filled with culture, universities, and opportunities, Britain is a dream destination for another group outside that of refugees: international students. Without the benefits of ‘home fees’ from being in the European Union, European students who want to attend university in Britain will be forced to pay increased tuition, which many can’t afford. Although higher education is still technically available to those who wish to pursue it, appropriate financial aid for international students to British universities will become increasingly less available. Additionally, the Student Visa process is setto become significantly more complicated, making it more difficult for students to gain access to university, given that they receive enough financial aid at all.
To further demonstrate the fragility of Britain’s unity are two starkly contrasting quotes from Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of England, and Sadiq Kahn, the Mayor of London. Johnson contributes significantly to the rise in nationalism saying, “Let’s take back control of huge sums of money, take back control of immigration, take back control of our democracy.” Kahn, in a speech serving as a letter to the international inhabitants of London, went on to say, “To the almost one million Europeans living in London, who make a huge contribution to our city, working hard, paying taxes, and contributing to our civic and cultural life. You are welcome here.”
Completing its fierce negotiations with the UN after 47 years of loyal membership has ultimately improved Britain in some ways, but the adverse effects are undoubtable. Brexit means restricted freedom of movement for European workers and students already in Britain. It has limited immigration, and impossibly raised tuition rates for international students. While citizens do suffer from less unemployment, Brexit has truly shown the deep flaws at the center of the UK: fragile unity, economic imbalance, and the quickly fraying bond between politicians and the people.