Brexit: A Divided Continent and a Divided Country Studying at Durham University in North East England offered a unique perspective on Britain’s internal divisions
Durham University is a bubble within the North East, and this has never been clearer than in the aftermath of the EU Referendum. Whilst sentiment within the student body was strongly Remain, County Durham voted overwhelmingly to leave.
A five-minute drive from the Remain posters in the windows of almost every student house in the city centre, huge Vote Leave banners hung from every town hall and working mens’ club. A former mining hub somewhat left behind by economic and structural changes, the North East’s workforce is generally lower paid and less educated, differing on both counts from the majority of the student population.
Across the UK, low-income areas, sometimes those most dependent on EU funding, chose to leave, often over issues such as immigration and sovereignty. A similar division was present between old and young, leaving the youth feeling betrayed by Eurosceptics of their grandparents’ generation. It is therefore unsurprising that the immediate aftermath of the referendum was a blame game. Remainers derided Leavers for their alleged stupidity, and young blamed old for implementing changes which won’t take place within their lifetimes. The Remain-leaning government left to oversee Brexit have yet to present a clear departure strategy.
Both sides had reasons for their decision, and accusing Leavers of idiocy is simplistic and narrow-minded. The battle was fought with hearts, not minds, in what many called post-truth politics. The possibility of renegotiating Britain’s relationship with the EU was largely overlooked, and many interpreted leave vs. remain as change vs. an unhappy status quo. Built on misinformation and broken promises, the politics of Farage and Johnson was self-interested and irresponsible. Of course, reasoned arguments for Brexit do exist, but I fear that only a minority of Leavers were motivated by these principles.
Former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron called the referendum in a bid to ‘prove’ himself as a man of the people, expecting to emerge victorious with the nation’s support. What resulted revealed as much about a fractured country as it did about a fractured continent, leaving both sides embittered. Before Britain can establish itself as the strong, independent force it claims Brexit will allow it to be, it must resolve its internal divisions. Scotland’s strong Remain vote also casts the integrity of the United Kingdom into doubt, following a closely-contested referendum for Scottish independence in 2014.