An Indian Student in the UK Fears the Storm Brexit Promises
What does Brexit mean for Indians living in United Kingdom? An Indian student gives her account.
In two months from now, I would complete two years of calling the United Kingdom my place of residence, my home away from the familiar shores of India. Like thousands of international students who come to this island country to experience and learn at some of the world’s best institutions, I chose to learn about Conflicts and War from the London School of Economics (LSE). Each time I had to fill a form and choose my country, I remember being perplexed by the number of options I would’ve to skim through, Great Britain, The United Kingdom, Britain and more locally England. It is perhaps a reflection of the fault lines in this otherwise strong democracy.
After 41 years of being a part of the European Union, on a hesitant summer morning of 24 June, a majority of the British have decided to carve themselves out of a collective European identity. I kept a close eye on the neck-to-neck campaigns of Leave and Remain, admiring the dignity and calmness of a typical English political debate while other times missing the loud and colourful Indian polity.
As an Indian, as a temporary resident here, I have seen the result unfold rather anxiously. News anchors keep repeating the question of “What next?” to every politician and every market representative they get in the studio or in front of Westminster. Each answer is more vague and less clear than the previous. The truth is no one knows what happens next. Speculation is rife. Yes, the pound saw one of its lowest values against the dollar in 30 years. Yes, the street corners in pockets around the country are witnessing some angry demonstrations. Yes, David Cameron has resigned, furthering the political turmoil that’s bound to follow. And Yes, Nigel Farage asking 23 June to be celebrated as the Independence Day is a true story!
But amidst all the din of to be or not to be, calls for rationality, hope for stability, what does this decision of UK to leave the European Union, mean to people like me? Does it have any affect on us Indians, one of the largest immigrant populations of this country?
To begin with, we are not as insulated as we’d like to believe. It is not “their” situation alone. A majority of us did vote in this referendum, one of the perks of India being a part of the Commonwealth. A diverse culture and a cosmopolitan set up have always been on the wish list of an international student/worker/visitor and also an immigrant.
A large part of the discussion between friends and acquaintances here, while waiting for the referendum’s result, has revolved around job cuts and a fear of lay offs. Remember, almost half of UK’s exports go the EU. While Jaguar Land Rover, one of the 19 companies owned by Tata in the United Kingdom, has said nothing will change overnight for them, they have underlined that Europe remains a key strategic partner, comprising 20 percent of their global sales. This is crucial because an exit from the EU, could in the long term, affect manufacturing and sales of the car industry here if either the UK or EU were to tighten trade relations. On a more day-to-day basis, will imported food from EU cost more, even as the pound is hopeful of stabilising?; a question an old neighbour brought up.
A lot of it depends on what the negotiations for new trade policies with the EU will bring out. As David Cameron, in his statement, has made clear, it will be the onus of the new prime minister to figure this out when he takes over in October later this year. The suspense meanwhile is expected to push potential investors from making any key decisions until the trade policies are worked out.
While a falling pound, an uncertain industry repercussion and a political void are immediate concerns, there is a deeper fear that has now surfaced. The fear of a very divided and xenophobic society. Remember, the Leave campaign almost entirely put the blame on everything that was going wrong in the UK, on its association with the EU and on the immigrant population. Be it riots, austerity measures, receiving refugees or even job cuts, everything, according to the Leave campaigners, was a direct fallout of being a part of the EU. The fact that majority of the voters accepted this narrative is worrying. This is not to paint every ‘Leave voter’ wit the brush of a Xenophobia. But the fact that the Leave campaigners had no solution to offer for the challenges of a mixed society and yet rode to victory on the wave of Us versus Them alone is telling.
Of the two years I have lived here, one has been in the heart of the vibrant city of London and the other is close to one of the largest cities of UK, Birmingham. Birmingham is home to diverse ethnic and immigrant societies, made of first and second generation settlers, now British citizens. It is therefore only ironic that Birmingham has been one of the areas which voted to leave the EU. London, meanwhile, voted in majority to remain in the EU. These are social indicators of marginalised communities feeling the pressures of cuts and austerity measures. These are, perhaps, voters who believe they need to secure what they have by keeping their borders sealed away. Who believe, a growing EU influence means ceding democratic control and sharing money that is too precious and increasingly scarce. For the EU, the challenge of keeping its remaining members together is now as real as it can be.
My fear is that a society split down the middle, as demonstrated by the referendum, is not going to become crime-free, harmonious or promote socially inclusive development. My concern is in a world where every act of terror is given a religious identity, where class divisions are becoming unsurpassable and where hatred is the new political fodder, this vote has made it that much more difficult for immigrants and non-permanent residents of this beautiful country, to feel reassured and equal.
One of the many reasons I chose to stay back in the UK, was my experience in London that embraced one and all. Will a post-exit Britain, stand up and be a welcoming host once again? Or will I have to eventually wear my identity on my chest?
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