The Brexit Journal: Day One. First Impressions
This is the first in a four-part report authored by International Relations and Global Politics student, Tierra Hatfield (bio at foot of page) covering the recent departmental field trip to the U.K. to understand the Brexit process at first hand. The subsequent parts will be published over the coming weeks.
I arrived in London a few days prior to the start of the meetings, and from the first instant my impressions of London were that of vibrancy, multiculturalism and diversity. Although I had previously read a lot about the social aspects of Brexit I found that my perception of race relations in the UK did not accurately reflect the reality of what I observed in London. I found myself instantly surrounded by people from all ethnicities and could hear an abundance of languages being spoken. It is interesting that despite the serious issues surrounding race relations and the consequences of the referendum, the daily life of people in London has not drastically changed. Beyond the cultural diversity of the population and cuisine I was amazed at how many foreign banks, international businesses and companies were represented around every corner of the city. However that being said, it is also easy to see how London is not an accurate depiction of the United Kingdom as a whole.
Thursday, October 27th 2016
After having spent the previous day in London getting to know the city and observing the cultural dynamics of its population I was excited to begin our meetings. Going into the meetings I was hoping to gain a better understanding of how the UK is going to tackle the huge challenges ahead of them and moreover what UK-EU relations might look like in the future. Furthermore, I was interested in observing how people would explain Brexit and what type of language and framework they would use to talk to us about Brexit.
The Center for European Reform
Simon Tifold and Sophia Besch
The first meeting on the agenda of our course was with deputy director Simon Tifold and research fellow Sophia Besch at the Center for European Reform. As the Center for European Reform (CER) is a pro-European think thank, I was curious as to how Tifold and Besch would account for the role of anti-EU sentiment in the outcome of the Brexit referendum. Tifold began by introducing the think tank and explaining that CER is privately funded and unaffiliated with any government, political party or European institution. Therefore while generally CER regards European integration as beneficial, it remains critical and recognizes the many flaws of the European Union. Sitting down at the table Tifold jumped straight into discussing the reasons of why Brexit happened and the arguments presented by the ‘Leave’ campaign, explaining how the arguments were in fact flawed and problematic. From the beginning of the meeting I had a very good impression of Tifold and the CER. While he was undoubtedly against the Brexit and rather for European integration over separatism, I thought he was able to give a very well rounded presentation of the affects that Brexit could have on the future of the European Union.
The most important things I took away from the meeting was a greater understanding of what the future for the EU and UK might look like and the distinction between a soft Brexit and a hard Brexit. This first meeting also helped to set the stage for the rest of the meetings and helped highlight some of the main issues that needed to be discussed and that would inevitably carry over into our other meetings.
University College of London, Department of Anthropology
Professor Jim Rollo
The second meeting of the day was at the University College of London with Professor Jim Rollo and several students from the Anthropology department of the university. Although Professor Jim Rollo could not make it to the event in the end, I found the meeting really interesting as it allowed us to interact with British students who are directly affected by the outcome of the referendum. The students at UCL were very welcoming and had a lot to share with us in terms of how they experienced the vote and how their lives have been affected by its outcome. It was clear to see that all the students were upset about the UK leaving the European Union. However, some of them who were from the more rural towns in England explained that they knew people or had family who had voted ‘Leave’. What I found particularly interesting is that one of the students from Cromwell, a town that had a majority of ‘Leave’ voters, explained how many of the farmers were misinformed or unaware that many of their farms were subsidized by the European Union. Therefore many of the ‘Leave’ voters actually voted against their own interest without even being aware of the ramifications of their vote. This resonated with what we had discussed in the previous meeting with the Center for European Reform, regarding the amount of ill informed or skewed information published by the media leading up to the vote.
I find it quite incredible, and scary to say the least, how easily the media and politicians are able to manipulate the fears of the general public into voting against their own interests. I really appreciated the openness of the students and I think being able to discuss some of these issues with students our age helped to bring the phenomenon of Brexit to a more humanistic level. While I find the political dynamics and socio-economic effects of the referendum fascinating, being able to look at the issue from an anthropological point-of view contributed to my holistic understanding of the sociology of Brexit.
This is the end of the first part of this report. Below you will find some links to explore more about Brexit for yourself:
- How LEAVE outgunned REMAIN: The Battle of the Five Ms’ (CER)
- The Impact of Brexit on the E.U. (CER)
- Brexit: All you need to know about the UK leaving the EU (BBC NEWS)
- Brexit: the latest news on the UK vote that shocked Europe (AL JAZEERA)
- The ultimate causes of Brexit: history, culture, and geography (LSE)
- What really caused Brexit (NEWSWEEK)
- On the Causes of Brexit (BIRKBECK)
About Tierra Hatfield
I am an international student from a diverse cultural background; my family is originally British/American by blood but has been based in Kenya and South Africa over the last four generations- where I grew up and claim as my true home. I have been pursuing my undergraduate degree in International Relation and Global Politics at the American University of Rome (AUR) since 2014. Currently I am a senior and will be graduating in the upcoming spring of 2017.
Over the course of the last two years at AUR, I have had the incredible opportunity to engage with current political issues through the exciting on-site courses provided by the International Relations Department. Starting in Brussels during the outbreak of the Ukraine Crisis in the fall of 2014, I have travelled throughout Europe and Turkey with IR professors Irene Caratelli and Francesca Conti who have inspired me to develop a passion for international affairs. Most recently, we traveled to London to explore the phenomenon of Brexit and its ambiguous impact for the unity of the United Kingdom and the process of European integration.
Following graduation next May, I will be moving to Washington DC where I plan to work for a year or two before pursuing my postgraduate degree in IR. While I am still uncertain of the exact direction I will take within the field of IR, I plan to take advantage of the opportunities in Washington DC to explore my interests in international affairs, foreign policy, security and defense cooperation, conflict resolution, and international development.