How Will Brexit Affect You?

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
A statue of Winston Churchill is silhouetted against the Houses of Parliament and the early morning sky in London today, the first day after Brexit. Matt Dunham / AP)

From a British reader, Prasad:

It’s likely that I’m going to suffer the negative consequences of Brexit without the claimed positives. As the UK adjusts to life out in the cold, companies will uproot themselves to go somewhere that’s in the single market; companies lose business as a consequence of their lack of access to the EU; tariffs and unfavourable trade deals made by countries holding the whip hand over us mean we’re cut to the bone. My wages are likely going to drop.

However, the proposed benefit—that a lack of competition from EU immigrants will mean I can find a job more easily and command higher wages (even after factoring in the wage depression caused by damage to the economy)—will likely not come to pass, because to remain in the EEA [European Economic Area], the UK will as a rule have to accept free movement of labour.

That’s the irony of Brexit: The things that people most want can’t be achieved by voting for it. There’s no hope of splendid isolation. All we’ve done is give up our seat at the table—our voting rights—in order to secure a worse trade deal, cause serious economic instability, and have the freedom to pollute our air and give our workers fewer holidays, as well as add obstacles and problems to our European travel.

I voted Remain, and my future has been changed irrevocably in large part by people who will be dead in 10 years while I’m still suffering the consequences.

I you’re a British citizen like Prasad and would like to share your own feelings about Brexit, please drop us a note: Update from Ryan in Manchester:

I voted Leave.

It had nothing to do with kicking out economic migrants, or indeed migrants of any kind. I live with European migrants. I speak a European language, and indeed I lived in Mainland Europe for a spell. I actually quite like Europe and am more familiar with its culture, customs, and history than many of the people who would wish to portray me as some sort of right-wing reactionary. I’m fairly young, educated, cultured and work for a global bank, and that brings me into contact with people from all corners of the earth. I live in the centre of one of the most open and metropolitan cities in the UK and therefore, by extension, the world. I am no stereotypical petty-minded “Little Englander,” in other words.

For me it’s very simple: self-determination.

Will we be worse off if Britain exits the EU? In the short-term, yes, that is certainly possible, but what price is freedom? I’m sure most people don’t really stop to consider this, but the British people are actually limited in terms of the type of government we are able to elect. We elect hamstrung governments. Here’s an example:

Parties on both sides of the house accept that immigration is too high and needs to be brought under control, and the current Conservative government was elected with a mandate to, among other things, curb immigration. Except, that’s not possible, is it? It’s not possible because our directly elected officials don’t have control of our immigration policy. Our directly elected representatives are also prevented from granting state aid to the failing steel industry, even though such a move would likely enjoy widespread public support. We probably couldn’t re-instate the death penalty or deny prisoners the right to vote either.

Now, I don’t want to do any of those things. I don’t want to kick people out of the country. I don’t particularly want to save failing businesses. I don’t particularly want the death penalty back. I see no point in denying prisoners the right to vote.

But if I did want those things, that should be my decision as a British citizen. I should be able to cast my vote for those things and have that vote count. As part of the EU, that wasn’t possible. Last night we changed that.

Here’s one more distinct view, from a Brit who lives elsewhere in the EU:

I’m a British citizen who’s lived in Sweden for nearly 30 years. My two daughters are “just” Swedish citizens. One is still at school and the other works in Brussels for a British company carrying out analyses of EU policies and regulations for commercial companies across Europe.

I regard this Brexit vote as Mrs Thatcher’s chickens coming home to roost. The Conservative Party has spent nearly 40 years splitting and dividing the country, and paying absolutely no attention to the inequality—and in some places misery—in British society. What this vote was all about was giving the elites in London a good kicking. (You probably know that the most popular search term on the British Google the morning after the vote was ‘What is the EU?’!)

My immediate reaction was to finally get my application for joint Swedish citizenship sent off. Both the UK and Sweden permit joint nationality, so if I’m accepted I’ll be traveling on a Swedish passport in the future.

I’m a university teacher, and the depth of the depression in the English university sector now has to be seen to be believed. Joint European projects have been incredibly important to English universities and they’ll all dry up now. (A typical EU research project runs for three years and I can’t imagine any application with a British partner being approved from now on.)

I’ve read the wishful thinking of a few Brexiters that either the EU needs the UK more than the UK needs the EU, so everything will be alright, or that lots of other countries will want to leave the EU, so this is the start of the breakup of the EU. From a Scandinavian and Continental perspective, this is just nonsense. The Swedish Trade Minister, Mikael Damberg, came out with a clear statement the day after the vote that the Swedish government’s trade policy would now to try to attract companies and contracts from the UK to Sweden. He won’t be the only one trying to do this!