Notre Dame London community offers insight on ‘Brexit’ vote
LONDON — As the weather warms up in the United Kingdom, so has the political climate. Britain is on the verge of a historic vote on whether or not to stay in the European Union, an election which many are calling the “Brexit” vote.
A Brexit — a portmanteau of “British exit” — would create questions about the strength of the European Union, which has seen recent economic crises in Greece and Cyprus. The U.K. has been a member of the European Union — formerly called the European Community — since 1973, but does not use the Euro currency.
Keith Surridge, a professor of British history at Notre Dame’s London Global Gateway, said the push for a Brexit arose due to fears about immigration.
“They’ve been swamped by a load of foreigners,” he said. “Some call it an invasion in certain parts of the country where there’s small communities that have had a lot of Eastern Europeans arrive recently.
“There are others who look at immigration and say there’s just too much of it and it’s affecting the economy, the [National Health Service] — that sort of thing. Britain can’t cope with the influx of people. I think immigration is at the heart of it.”
Surridge also said leaders of the Brexit movement, including former mayor of London Boris Johnson and head of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) Nigel Farage, have argued the EU is not helping Britain’s economy.
“On the other end, there’s a view that the European Union is economically moribund,” he said. “It’s not growing — the problems in the Eurozone have shown that — and that it’s holding Britain back. Britain has a more dynamic economy that’s been growing in the last few years, unlike virtually all the other European economies.”
Josh Copeland, rector of Notre Dame’s housing in London at Conway Hall, said the financial implications are perhaps the most important aspect of the referendum, and a Brexit could have a negative impact on the world economy.
“When the polls for [a Brexit] have gone up and it looks like the leave campaign is going to win, worldwide markets have started to slip,” Copeland said. “And when it seems like the remain campaign has actually been polling stronger in the last few days, markets have stabilized around the world.”
Copeland said if the U.K. voted to leave the EU, several financial questions would be raised about London’s status in the international banking community.
“[International banks] couldn’t and wouldn’t necessarily want to do business here anymore, so things would change,” he said. “We don’t know how [much] — that’s the thing.”
But unlike most votes, Surridge said the Brexit referendum will not play out solely on party lines. He believes many Labour Party members will vote to leave, which is against the party’s official position.
“It’s becoming a class issue,” he said. “I think many working-class communities, who you would normally expect to vote Labour, are voting to leave.”
Surridge also said leaders are working across their typical party boundaries in order to achieve their desired outcome.
“I think [Prime Minister] David Cameron, the leader of the conservatives, campaigned with the leader of the Scottish National Party to remain. Normally they’re deadly enemies,” he said.
The passions the referendum has sparked are also unusual, and the debate has turned venomous, Surridge said.
“When we have general elections here, you don’t get that sort of nastiness generally,” Surridge said. “Here, it’s become much more emotive … People are being called liars.”
Tensions were also heightened by the murder of Jo Cox, a Labour member of Parliament. Cox was killed last Thursday in West Yorkshire, allegedly by Thomas Mair.
How much the killing had to do with the Brexit vote remains to be determined, but it has certainly caused voters to rethink their positions heading intoThursday, Copeland said.
“It is getting really heated, and the tragic murder of [Cox] this week by someone who seems to espouse some really right-wing, fascist ideas — it’s a bit of a scary time, and everyone’s had to stop and take stock of what the conversations actually look like in this campaign, which has been tough,” Copeland said.
The effect a potential Brexit would haveon future Notre Dame students studying abroad down the road appears to be minimal, according to Copeland.
“Our visas, for those people who need visas here — and a lot of [our] students are on an arrangement that’s not strictly a visa, because we’ve worked that out with the border agency — it could be impacted a bit,” he said.
The impact a Brexit would have on the financial market is more likely to affect students staying in the U.K., Copeland said.
“[It] will change everything down to the value of the change in your pocket to what it takes for us to run a program like this,” he said. “I have no doubt that Notre Dame will see our way through it, but every business and every academic institution could be impacted one way or another.”
Surridge said a Brexit may even have a positive consequences for students studying abroad.
“The remainers say that if we do have Brexit, that will affect the value of the pound — and it will go down,” he said. “And that can only be good for students coming here and their parents paying for it.”
Mark Pruitt, a sophomore currently participating in Notre Dame’s London program, said the impact of the campaigns have been minimal during his travel experience.
“You see the campaigns, but you ignore it, because it’s not relevant to you,” he said. “It seems like it’s everywhere. It seems like it’s a huge deal. People on both sides are warning of negative consequences if things don’t go their way, but it doesn’t seem like that’s for students studying abroad, more for people living here.”
And although students currently studying in Notre Dame’s London program will not be impacted by the results of the vote, that has not kept some of them from staying informed on the issues and drawing their own conclusions.
“From a business perspective, [I think] the only option is to stay. From a sovereignty and British pride perspective, there is incentive to escape the rules and regulations of the EU,” Justin McCurdy, a sophomore also studying in the program, said. “I would vote to stay. For economics, global stability, and hegemony, it just makes sense to stay. The results of leaving are just a big question mark, and it’s not worth it.”
Greg Trinkl, another sophomore in the University’s London program, also weighed the economic ramifications of the vote.
“Most publications here in the United Kingdom highlight the long-term implications of the Brexit, which could be disastrous to global deal-making and economic efficiency,” Trinkl said. “That’s why I think they should remain.”
Surridge said the vote will be very close, but predicts his home country will stay in the EU.
“I think it’s going to be a lot closer than people thought,” Surridge said. “I think the fear factor will be tipped in favor of remain.”