Just weeks after Brexit, Sarah Bradbury takes a look at the chaos left in its wake – not least for the young Brits and EU citizens who were most eager for Bremain but now face an uncertain future
Painful to watch, post-Brexit Britain doesn’t necessarily seem to have crumbled. It’s just lost its mind. Lost the the plot. Gone utterly loop-da-loop.
First, we vote out. There’s shock, pain, denial. The markets crash, the pound plummets. Cameron quits. We try to reason, rationalise. Then repressed bigots enjoy something of a new found freedom of expression. Johnson stands down. Some flounder, some protest. Corbyn’s cabinet resigns. And then Farage quits.
It’s not only those in Brussels and beyond, but Brits themselves asking – what now?
No-one planned for a vote to leave, but the Brexiteers themselves say they haven’t either and now it’s all rats escaping a sinking ship.
At this point, it seems the best we can hope for is that some clever politician will do everyone a favour and abandon the good old Boaty McBoatface that is Brexit and let us carry on with our lives.
But even if that were the case, is it too late? Has the damage been done?
“In just the last two weeks 40% of our investors have pulled out,” says Lucy Lynne-Evans, 30, CEO of Emerge Education, an incubator for Educational Technology start-ups. “Berlin is making a play for businesses, offering major incentives including low rents and favourable taxes. Our investors don’t want to take the risk here in London anymore.”
In the months that have followed the unexpected result, the “nothing starts until Article 50 is invoked” and “it will take time, two years minimum” reassurances seem to have fallen on deaf ears as markets, businesses and workers panic.
“I was due to interview a Greek guy yesterday for a developer position,” says Alejandro Simon, 31, Head of Software at Kano, a start-up in in Old Street’s Silicon Roundabout. “But he called to say he wasn’t coming. He said he was nervous about changing jobs when everything was so up in the air. Another of my developers has just accepted a job in Berlin.”
In particular, the effects seem to have been felt acutely amongst the demographic who so overwhelming voted to remain:
75% of 18- to 24-year-olds voted in whereas 69% of people over the age of 65 voted to leave – with older workers more shielded from recruitment freezes the pain is likely to fall hardest on younger workers making their way on the lower rungs of the career ladder.
University graduates and those in high skilled jobs were the most likely people to want to remain in the EU – people with such skills are most likely to lose out as movement of labour closes down. Plus with the likes of Jean-Claude Juncker giving the impression that the EU will be making an example of the UK to stop other members defecting, it is likely Brits will face barriers to EU jobs.
With rumours rife that up to 100,000 jobs could disappear, young Brits are flooding the immigration websites of Canada and New Zealand.
And what about the horde of workers in job directly related to the EU?
“We have been told to look for other jobs,” says Thomas Howie, 30, from Newcastle, and an MEP Assistant working in Brussels. “Even though nothing is yet clear, they can’t guarantee us anything.”
Paul Brannen, a British Labour MEP for the North East said: “We’ve all had to cut back on our roles. I’ve dropped my role as rapporteur for the Carbon Emissions Directive for example. The focus for me and my team now is ensuring the NE don’t lose out in this debacle – they were expecting £664 million from EU funds – but I may have to cut staff as early as September as the budget goes. It’s not going to be easy.”
And for the EU citizens working in the UK? Theresa May made headlines by implicating our EU colleagues as the bargaining chips of our messy divorce with the EU.
“Here it’s all ‘Keep calm and carry on’, what used to be a very British mentality,” says Pilar Tejon 32, from Madrid, a HR Manager at Santander’s London office. “So for myself, I’m not worried – I am a privileged and employable migrant and I know my company will likely ensure we get visas to stay. But my best friend is an artist – she’s not registered anywhere. To the UK she will be invisible and will probably become an illegal immigrant. She’s panicked and anxious.”
“I’m not too worried at the moment,” says Curro Piqueras, 31, who just has just moved from Milan to accept a role as Creative Director in London. “But with the pound crashing I just lost 15% of my salary. More importantly though, if the same sentiment spreads through Europe, if the EU collapses, it’s not economic meltdown, it’s World War 3.”
Amanda Brooks, Director of Business Innovation at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, is determined to be optimistic:
“British businesses have a long history of innovation and flexibility, of making the most of difficult situations.
“Our young businesses and workers are this country’s future so we will be doing everything we can to plan next steps and offer the support people need to succeed. It’s all about trying to make these challenges opportunities.”
David Roach of the Leave Campaign is dismissive of the “exaggerated response”: “The reality is that the world has not imploded. Young people are panicking as all that is being reported is apocalypse and doom. Therefore what we do need now is clarity – without a leader and strategy this circus will only continue.”
And this sense David seems right: time is not on our side. The longer uncertainty drags on the more wild the speculation, the more extreme the reactions, and the more difficult any recovery will be. Though no decisions have yet been taken businesses and employees, Brits and non, are concerned if not panicking about their future.
Right now, many would rather jump ship than risk waiting to see if any sensible political force can take the helm.