On the first day of orientation, I was chatting to a new friend in line for the barbeque on the St. Mike’s quad. After the short introductions, our conversation gently turned to the question: “So are you, like, for Brexit?” This is a question I had heard countless times since my arrival in Canada from the United Kingdom. Before answering, the first thought that ran through my head was: what will my answer reveal about me as a person?
I remember the day of the vote quite clearly. I was 16 years old and it was the day of my last General Certificate of Secondary Education exam. Quite frankly, nothing was more important to me than the Further Maths paper I was due to sit in less than two hours — not even the future of a country I’ve called home for as long as I can remember. I was in the car when the final votes had been counted and Prime Minister David Cameron was due to make his speech regarding the results. This is the one thing I remembered before walking into the exam hall that day: “The British people have made a choice. That not only needs to be respected — but those on the losing side of the argument, myself included, should help to make it work.”
Fast forward two years later. This October, over 700,000 people had taken to the streets of Central London to call for a second referendum with a “people’s vote.” To give context to this figure, this was the biggest peaceful demonstration regarding government policy since the protests against the Iraq War in 2003. In response, Nigel Farage held a pro-Brexit counterprotest in Harrogate, attended by about 1,200 people.
With consistent unrest, a hung parliament, and a great deal of indecisiveness, life in Brexit Britain for my generation is stormy. In the aftermath of the 2016 referendum, a study by PathMotion, a recruitment platform, found that 49 per cent of employers indicated that they would likely to lower their graduate intake should Britain leave the European Union. Furthermore, justified by the depreciation of the pound after the vote, the British economy stands on stilts waiting to collapse. The pound’s fall in 2016 following the referendum apparently became comparable to its fall in the global financial crisis of 2008. In the face of all this, it is safe to say that I did not feel equipped to handle the political climate, let alone ‘make it work’ for the other side.
Although I understand the attention Brexit has gained globally, it was still surprising to me that my views on the matter had enough merit to be discussed in conversation with my peers here. My accent has suddenly become my ‘I just left England because of Brexit!’ sticker. But here is what stands out about my generation: there is a growing passion among us all to participate, at the very least, in what’s going on.
A shadow of uncertainty has been cast globally by Brexit, but it also provoked a new wave of political enthusiasts eager to have a say in their future. For me, this political uncertainty reflects in my personal life as well, ingrained in my search for an identity and concern for the shape of my future.
I find that it influences me in even the smallest decisions, such as the friends I choose or the classes I pick. I strongly feel the presence of Brexit branded on my sleeve as I walk through campus — an identity I never created for myself, but one that everyone seems to know me by. This is similar to the way that the political party one supports expresses more about one’s personality than you might expect.
Living through Brexit Britain has cultivated an increasingly anti-apathetic strain in me. I’m determined to have a say and, even after having taken a step away from it all, this burning desire has only grown stronger. Through this, the intersection of activism and identity is much more important to me than it otherwise would have been.
With the pending Brexit deal looming ahead of us in the coming year, I yearn for a continued fight against apathy. In the words of Charles Dickens, it truly is the best of times and the worst of times; we have nothing before us and we have everything before us.