A reflection on Brexit

As part spectator and part player in the referendum, the aftermath seems more tangible than any of the tragedies which have unfolded in recent months and years. The universal feeling of grief permeated the city and left few untouched.  I do not pretend to understand the ins and outs of politics to the extent needed to have the exact right answer, but the past 24 hours has been flooded with doomsday-esque media coverage and very little celebration.  It’s not hard to know that something is not quite right.

The news that the UK had voted to leave the European Union brought on a wave of sadness amongst Londoners. Having not experienced a UK vote before I was shocked to wake up on Friday morning to the outcome of the referendum having already been concluded – polling booths closed at 10pm the previous evening. I was even more shocked to learn what that outcome had been. In the lead up to the referendum it was evident that the vote was going to be close, if not scarily close, however the faith in our fellow humans to do the right thing appeased the worry.

How wrong we were!

As I rode the tube to work the mood was solemn and slightly unnerving. Normally, my fellow commuters are angry at having to travel to work squashed up against people with various levels of BO or disinterestedly browsing Facebook or news sites. Yesterday morning, people just looked sad while they read the Metro or sat quietly in their seats. A young woman was talking on the phone whilst browsing the internet. She cut off her friend – “oh shit, David Cameron just resigned” – to which her neighbor (a stranger) asked her to repeat herself, just to be sure (what is this madness – people don’t talk to each other on the train!). As an Australian, the concept of a new Prime Minister every few months has become commonplace, but over here the public are used to a bit more consistency.

My colleagues are a mix of nationalities, a majority non-British. Without trying too hard I can think of people who are Portuguese, Belgian, German, Irish, French and Austrian and that is without including the non-European nationalities. As a global business we thrive on the mix of nationalities and rely on the skills that come with hiring staff with a wide array of backgrounds. My key client is a global brand; it would be narrow and restrictive to rely on the people of one country alone. Our industry is constantly learning from the work of other markets and it would be bland to only experience the culture of one. This isn’t to slander Britain at all but it’s important to be exposed to different people wherever you are based. EU citizens are now unsure about their future and the entire UK may now be stripped of the opportunity to easily work across Europe. This is not merely a blow to Europe but also to the UK.

Arriving at work slightly early (as my media friends will know, contracted hours are very different from working hours!) the office was quite empty – those who had already arrived were talking in twos and threes. As more people trickled in like lost puppies the mood couldn’t have been further from the usual hype of a Friday. Instead of the familiar “Happy Friday!” in emails we awkwardly typed other, less enthused greetings. Instead of a pub lunch to celebrate payday, most people half-heartedly meandered to the canteen and brought their food upstairs to eat at their desks. It didn’t matter if the referendum result would potentially affect you or not; it was not the day to be happy.

I am proud to be part of a working environment that so strongly backed the remain vote, as I am proud to be from an area where 70% of people voted to remain, as I am proud to be in a city who voted to remain and most importantly part of a generation who voted to remain. Sadly, it wasn’t enough and only time will tell the real outcome of Brexit. I hope we’re all pleasantly surprised.

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